Hacking the Truth: Influence Campaigns and Cyber in a World of Fake

A special panel about this rapidly evolving threat during Cybertech Global Tel Aviv

Photo: Ronen Topelberg

“Influence campaigns are a new kind of weapon and we need to understand how to secure ourselves. Cyber defense must also be used against this threat, not only against breaches,” said Rami Efrati, the former Head of the Civilian Division of Israel’s National Cyber Bureau and a Managing Partner at MSF Partners.

Efrati moderated a special panel about the rapidly evolving threat of digital influence campaigns took place today (Wednesday) on the Cybertech Global Tel Aviv Stage. Participant included  Dr. Tehilla Schwartz Altshuler, Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute; Omri Timianker, Managing Director of International Sales, PenLink Cobwebs; and Roy Friedman, Executive Director for Strategy & Policy, Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD)

Tehilla Schwartz Altshuler: "During the past couple of months I have been writing about the ‘phygital’ world – a combination of physical and digital. Initially, I thought that there was a total separation between the physical and digital realms, but it took us time to understand the connection.

“The Russia-Ukraine war is referred to as the first hybrid war.  Traditionally, we conducted wars through the sea, ground, and air. During the past few months in Israel, we’ve seen a total physical-digital combination that changed both spheres and the entire notion of what war is and how we must prepare for it.

“In a democracy, it’s not illegal to lie. We need to remember this, this is why influence campaigns are such a problem to deal with. Also, we are facing so much foreign interference but are also exposed to tremendous campaigns driven by Israeli government representatives and other groups in Israeli society. It can be a great problem sometimes to separate between the red and blue teams.  

Roy Friedman: "INCD wants to enable a safe and secure digital space. Influence space is a part of this. Talking about AI, deep fakes are an integral part of influence campaigns, and we’re trying to develop tools that will help us distinguish the real and the fake.  As the INCD, we have the ability to bring all the players to the table – both from the private and public sectors, join forces.

“Should the government be involved in combatting influence campaigns? They have been conducted for many years with various objectives. In the last couple of years, we have seen an increase due to the digital platforms that make it so much easier to exert influence. There are limited ethical codes plus commercial considerations by the platforms themselves.

“In the context of the Swords of Iron War, we’ve been experiencing misinformation and disinformation. We’ve been working to remove malicious content and have also launched a national campaign to raise public awareness. The way we see it, the government should intervene when it’s a foreign influence campaign that has the intent or potential to harm Israel’s security or resilience.

Omri Timianker: “The evolution of influence campaigns is very dynamic and changes daily. When the war broke out, Telegram and TikTok became the primary sources of information. The challenge here is complicated: the legal system isn’t prepared, society needs to be more aware, and technology must fight this.

“Every country has its own regulations, and this also creates additional problems as influence campaigns have no physical borders. There should be some kind of alignment and cross-national cooperation.

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