In­ter­fer­ence ex­pected in 2019


OT­TAWA — For­eign coun­tries are very likely to try to ad­vance their agen­das in 2019 — a gen­eral elec­tion year — 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 LGBT rights, race, im­mi­gra­tion and guns from June 2015 to May 2017. Mil­lions of peo­ple in the U.S. saw the ads.

In ad­di­tion, the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment has an­nounced in­dict­ments against Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agents for al­legedly hack­ing Demo­cratic party emails and com­put­ers dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign.

In its re­port, the cen­tre lays out the cy­berthreats to Cana­dian busi­nesses, crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions gleaned through CSE data, gen­eral ex­per­tise and an as­sess­ment of the over­all land­scape.

“The in­ten­tion is not to scare Cana­di­ans away from us­ing tech­nol­ogy,” cen­tre head Scott Jones said at a news con­fer­ence. “The as­sess­ment is meant to in­form Cana­di­ans of the threats they face, and will be used as a ba­sis for sim­ple things we can each do to make our­selves more se­cure.”

That can sim­ply mean keep­ing anti-virus soft­ware up­dated, be­ing cau­tious be­fore clicking on links or check­ing the source of in­for­ma­tion to en­sure it is cred­i­ble.

“I’m not say­ing delete your ac­counts and move back to send­ing post­cards,” Jones said. “I’m say­ing, just con­sume it with a crit­i­cal eye and look for a more trusted source.”

Asked about con­cerns China might re­tal­i­ate on­line against Canada over the re­cent ar­rest of Huawei Tech­nolo­gies’ chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer in Van­cou­ver, Jones did not an­swer di­rectly.

“We al­ways have to be re­silient no mat­ter what the pos­si­ble trig­ger could be,” he said. “So we in­crease our re­silience against any form of ma­li­cious cy­ber­ac­tiv­ity we could be fac­ing as a na­tion.”

It is highly un­likely, in the ab­sence of in­ter­na­tional hos­til­i­ties, state-spon­sored cy­ber­at­tack­ers would in­ten­tion­ally go after Cana­dian crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture such as power grids or wa­ter sys­tems, the re­port says.

How­ever, the more such providers of vi­tal ser­vices con­nect de­vices to the In­ter­net, the more sus­cep­ti­ble they be­come to less-so­phis­ti­cated play­ers such as cy­ber­crim­i­nals, it adds.

The big­gest on­line threat Cana­di­ans face is cy­ber­crime in­clud­ing theft, fraud and ex­tor­tion, the re­port stresses.

“Cy­ber­crim­i­nals tend to be op­por­tunis­tic when look­ing for tar­gets, ex­ploit­ing both tech­ni­cal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and hu­man er­ror.”


The Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Se­cu­rity Es­tab­lish­ment com­plex is pic­tured in Ot­tawa in 2013. The fed­eral cy­ber­se­cu­rity cen­tre says for­eign coun­tries are very likely to try to ad­vance their agen­das in 2019 — a gen­eral elec­tion year — by ma­nip­u­lat­ing Cana­dian opin­ion through ma­li­cious on­line ac­tiv­ity.

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