Ex­pect on­line elec­tion in­flu­enc­ing, ex­perts warn

The Welland Tribune - - Canada & World - JIM BRONSKILL

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.”

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