In an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, Bruno Kahl, head of the Germany's BND security agency, alluded to the potential to influence political discourse through hacking, saying that his agency knows of "cyberattacks that have no other point than causing political insecurity," adding that "Europe is in the focus of this attempted disruption, and Germany in particular."
Kahl's comments come amid an increase in talk about foreign state-sponsored cybercrime, with US authorities claiming that Russian actors were responsible for hacking the emails of Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials — claims that Moscow has denied.
Unfortunately I find it much easier to believe the US is dumb enough to elect Trump than that Russia is smart enough to hack our elections.— Dennis DiClaudio (@dennisdiclaudio) November 23, 2016
In light of the DNC hacks, the subsequent leaks and speculation over their potential impact on the recent US Presidential election, Kahl admitted it was technically difficult to identify a specific "state actor," but added that "some things speak for it being at least tolerated or wished for on the part of the state."
"The perpetrators have an interest in delegitimizing the democratic process as such — whomever that later helps," Kahl said. "I have the impression that the outcome of the American election isn't causing mourning in Russia so far."
He also believes that such hacks against the US Democratic party could also be replicated to try and influence European politics, particularly with key EU elections in Germany and France in 2017.
"These attempts to interfere focus on Europe, and on Germany especially," Kahl added. "A kind of pressure is being exercised on public discourse and democracy here, which is unacceptable."
Merkel Hints at Russian Hacks
The implication of Russian cyberattacks by Kahl, and outright blame on Russian actors by US authorities has so far been made without concrete evidence to back-up the claims.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere also both also alluded to Russian involvement in hacking without offering evidence when speaking about a recent cyber attack that affected the Internet services of hundreds of thousands of German customers of Deutsche Telekom.
Angel Merkel says cyber attacks from Russia 'are now part of daily life and we must learn to cope with them.' #merkel— Gavin Hewitt (@BBCGavinHewitt) November 29, 2016
"I don't have any concrete information about the origin of the attacks on the Telekom network," Merkel said.
"Let me just say that such cyberattacks, or 'hybrid attacks' as they're known in Russian doctrine, are part of everyday life today, and we need to learn to deal with them."
De Maiziere was equally careful in his language when asked whether he thought Russia was behind the hack.
Obama then says: "Russia engages in cyber attacks" (he's standing next to Angela Merkel, who had her phone bugged by the Americans).— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) November 17, 2016
"It's possible that we can't clearly distinguish between criminal activities launched from a certain country and state activities."
The Russian government has so far denied allegations that it has been involved in cyberattacks on foreign countries, with President Vladimir Putin accusing US politicians of whipping up "hysteria" over claims of Russian involvement in hacking.