Expect online election influencing, experts warn
OTTAWA — Foreign countries are very likely to try to advance their agendas in 2019 by manipulating Canadian opinion with malicious online activity, says the federal centre that monitors brewing cyberthreats.
In a report Thursday, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security warns that state-sponsored players can conduct sophisticated influence operations by posing as regular people.
Online operatives create social media accounts or hijack existing profiles, and even set up “troll farms” of employees paid to comment on traditional media websites, social media and anywhere else they can reach their target audience, the centre says.
“Cyber threat actors also try to steal and release information, modify or make information more compelling and distracting, create fraudulent or distorted ‘news,’ and promote extreme opinions.”
The new centre, a wing of the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s electronic spy agency, brings together experts from the CSE, Public Safety and Shared Services.
The CSE warned in a study for the Liberal government last year that cyberthreat activity against the democratic process is increasing around the world, and Canada is not immune. An updated version will be issued next spring, just months before Canadians go to the polls.
Considerable evidence has pointed to online Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In September of last year, Facebook said hundreds of dubious accounts, likely operated out of Russia, spent about $100,000 on some 3,000 ads about contentious issues such as race from June 2015 to May 2017.
The biggest online threat Canadians face is cybercrime, including theft, fraud and extortion, the report says.
“Cybercriminals tend to be opportunistic when looking for targets, exploiting both technical vulnerabilities and human error.”