German spy chief warns of Russian cyber attacks

BERLIN • Germany's spy chief warned that Russian hackers may target next year's German election with campaigns of misinformation that could undermine the democratic process, echoing concerns voiced by the country's domestic intelligence director.

US intelligence officials warned, in the run-up to the Nov 8 presidential election won by populist outsider Donald Trump, of efforts to manipulate the vote that they believed were backed by Russian authorities. Russian officials denied any such effort.

In an interview published yesterday in Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Mr Bruno Kahl, new head of Germany's BND foreign intelligence service, said there were indications Russia may be behind the interference.

He said: "We have evidence cyber attacks are taking place that have no other purpose than triggering political uncertainty. The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such, no matter who that subsequently helps."

Mr Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's domestic BfV intelligence agency, told Reuters this month the authorities were concerned that Russia may try to interfere in Germany's national elections by using misleading news stories.

Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that social bots, software programs to sway opinion on influential social media sites by spreading fake news, might manipulate voting.

PURPOSE: TRIGGER UNCERTAINTY

We have evidence cyber attacks are taking place that have no other purpose than triggering political uncertainty. The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such, no matter who that subsequently helps.

MR BRUNO KAHL, new head of Germany's BND foreign intelligence service, on how Russian hackers may target next year's election with misinformation campaigns .

She faces a growing challenge from the anti-immigrant, populist AfD party, which has said the European Union should drop sanctions imposed on Russia, and that Berlin should take a more balanced position towards Moscow.

Some critics say a proliferation of fake news helped sway the US election in favour of Mr Trump, who has pledged to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Kahl said Germany, among other countries in Europe, was a target of misinformation campaigns. "A kind of pressure is being exercised on public discourse and democracy here which is unacceptable."

While intelligence agencies used to focus on countries, he added, challenges and threats today are more varied and the actors more diverse.

Deutsche Telekom has blamed disruptions experienced by hundreds of thousands of its customers on Monday on a failed attempt to hijack consumer router devices for the purpose of a wider Internet attack.

Germany has suffered repeated cyber assaults in recent years. In September, several political parties were sent fake e-mails purporting to be from Nato headquarters but which contained a link that installed spying software on computers.

The e-mails affected party operations such as the regional network of the Christian Democratic Union in a western state, and the federal offices of the Left party. Amid the rising frequency of attacks, Germany's defence ministry this year set up a cyber department to coordinate a response to possible online incursions.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'German spy chief warns of Russian cyber attacks'. Print Edition | Subscribe