Sunday, 15 July 2018

Respekt: Czech state seeks to avoid interfering in elections

11 July 2017

Prague, July 10 (CTK) - Czech authorities are preparing for a possible Russian effort to interfere in the forthcoming elections in order to avoid the repeating of the situation that occurred during the U.S. presidential election in 2016, weekly Respekt writes in its issue out on Monday.

The election drama in the United States alarmed the Czech intelligence community. A special group for elections was set up at the Interior Ministry and started working in secrecy in one of the rooms at the ministry that cannot be bugged. It has about a dozen members, including representatives of the civilian intelligence UZSI and the counter-intelligence BIS, Respekt writes.

The military intelligence is not represented in this group because of the tense relations between its top officials and the management of the ministry and the UZSI, which falls under the ministry's supervision. The agents of the two services are unwilling to cooperate even though the security of the state in relation to the operation of foreign powers is at stake, the weekly writes.

Unlike in the USA, electronic voting is not used in the Czech Republic, which makes the situation somewhat easier, Respekt writes, adding that the FBI recently revealed that the voting systems in 39 states of the U.S. federation were attacked by viruses.

However, problems might occur after the Czech polling stations close. Electoral commissions send the data on the voting to the Czech Statistical Office for the final processing of the data. The newly formed group revealed several weak points in this system, which are being removed. The details of this effort are kept secret, Respekt writes.

It reminds of the fact that the Czech Foreign Ministry confirmed in February that it had been a target of hacking attempts last year. The security community believes that Russia was behind the attack, yet this has never been proved. The National Security Office checked all the other ministries in reaction to the hacking, but it did not reveal anything suspicious.

The Czech state is currently dealing with two major threats in connection with the forthcoming elections. Apart from possible attacks against the computers at polling stations, experts fear mainly attacks against individual election candidates, Respekt writes.

"The presidential election will be a bigger problem. In the general election, the Russians have nobody to support. (ANO leader) Andrej Babis has not been pro-Russian so far and they cannot help the Communists (KSCM) much," Respekt quotes Jakub Janda, from the Prague-based think tank European Values, as saying.

The general election is due in October, the presidential election is likely to be held next January.

As the Kremlin supports incumbent President Milos Zeman, attacks against his rivals are expected. Attacks against candidates recently occurred during the French presidential election, in which Russia favoured Marine Le Pen. Last year, Moscow succeeded in influencing the Dutch referendum on the EU-Ukraine association agreement, Respekt writes.

Czech security experts were considering training political parties and individual candidates in how to minimise risks of possible cyber threats because many do not seem to realise the risks. These training courses might be provided by employees of the National Security Office or by the companies Google and Facebook, which recently offered to do this to the Czech state.

The Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton fight showed that U.S. Democrats apparently underestimated the threats, Respekt writes.

Czech Presidential candidate Michal Horacek claims that his team is prepared to face hacking or other attempts.

"We are of course aware of the threats, not only from Russia. Cyber space is an open battlefield. We deal with it in the sphere of both communication and data storage," another presidential candidate, Jiri Drahos, told the weekly.

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