Iran said to have hacked cellphone of Blue and White chief Benny Gantz

Shin Bet agents reportedly inform ex-IDF chief that personal info and texts obtained in recent months could be used against him; no classified info believed captured

Israel Resilience party chairman Benny Gantz speaks at the 55th Munich Security Conference in southern Germany, February 17, 2019. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP)
Israel Resilience party chairman Benny Gantz speaks at the 55th Munich Security Conference in southern Germany, February 17, 2019. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP)

Iranian hackers recently broke into the personal phone of Benny Gantz, a leading candidate in next month’s elections, and obtained access to its entire contents, according to an Israeli television report Thursday.

Two senior Shin Bet security service officials approached the Blue and White party chairman five weeks ago to inform him that his cellular phone had been hacked shortly after he announced his political bid, with programmers in Iran getting hold of all the phones content, including personal details and texts, Channel 12 news reported.

The Shin Bet agents noted to Gantz that he should assume that any sensitive information contained on the phone could be used against him in the future, and told him to proceed as he saw fit.

Channel 12 noted that no classified information is likely to have been on the device.

In light of the Channel 12 report, Gantz canceled a series of campaign appearances in bars scheduled for Thursday evening.

Blue and White declined to comment on the details of the report, but said that that its timing weeks, before the election, “raises questions.”

Illustrative: A smart phone with a warning of a hacking attack. (iStock from Getty Images/ CarmenMurillo)

“We do not comment on issues pertaining to the core of Israeli security… The incident occurred four years after Gantz ended his [military] service. The timing of the publication raises questions,” the party said in a statement.

The report came amid concerns of foreign election meddling and cyber-attacks affecting the democratic process and the campaigns.

The head of the Shin Bet warned recently that a foreign nation was planning to meddle with the vote. Russia has since said it had no intention of doing so.

The National Cyber Directorate has been working closely with the country’s pollsters and political parties to help them stave off efforts to manipulate the results of the April 9 elections.

View of the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset, March 6, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Officials in the directorate, which operates under the Prime Minister’s Office, met with representatives of polling companies a few weeks ago, and more recently with major political parties, in a bid to help them prevent hacking into their computer systems. Officials fear hackers could attempt to skew poll results or leak parties’ politically compromising information ahead of the vote, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.

A second round of cyber-defense consultations is planned for political parties.

Cyber officials say a key concern includes the publicizing of leaked emails and documents close to election day geared to damage a particular political party, the report said.

That would be similar to the leaks of emails from the Emmanuel Macron campaign in France that sought to derail his electoral campaign just a day before the vote.

It also recalls the Wikileaks hacking efforts targeting the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee in 2016, which US intelligence officials have blamed on Russia.

The report comes a week after a similar report by the public broadcaster Kan noting the cyber directorate’s preparations for expected hacking attacks on or near election day.

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