Russia and China may dominate the headlines for their cyber capabilities but they are not the only countries that pose a threat to Canada.
In an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, the new head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security warned there are many more countries prepared to take advantage of cyber as a tool both to steal secrets and to manipulate societies that would have been out of reach just years ago.
“Cyber tools aren’t just within the range of one or two,” said Scott Jones, who is also the deputy chief of IT security at the Communications Security Establishment.
“It’s within the range of 100 countries. It is a very cheap way to come and do some of the things like mass manipulation of information.”
Last week, Canada joined allied countries from Europe as well as the United States in outing repeated cases of cyber aggression by Russia.
Those included both an attempt to hack into the system of the international chemical weapons watchdog, which is conducting an investigation into the Russian poisoning of a former double agent and his daughter in the U.K., as well as hacks of the World Anti-Doping Agency that resulted in the personal information of athletes being stolen.
Seven Russian spies were charged by the Department of Justice in absentia.
The RCMP’s cybercrime director, Mark Flynn, stood on the podium with American officials and confirmed a parallel investigation is underway in Canada.
Jones said despite the headlines focusing on countries like Russia and China, his job is to focus more broadly and that the sheer pace of advancements is by far the main challenge facing those trying to keep Canada safe.
“For us, the biggest threat is that it’s evolving so quickly,” he said.
The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security doesn’t yet have dedicated office space of its own right now but will be fully up and running in the National Capital Region by 2019.
It brings together experts from the CSE, Public Safety Canada and Shared Services to protect Government of Canada systems from attack as well as to analyze and to advise on how to handle threats facing the Canadian public in general.
Top of mind for many is the threat posed to the upcoming Canadian election in light of attempts by Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 American election as well as elections in European states since.
Jones said officials from the Centre have been working with Elections Canada since before the 2015 Canadian election and continue to do so.
He said while the systems and functioning of the election are well protected, it is activities like information warfare and manipulating public opinion via social media that Canadians need to be paying attention to because “it will be a target.”
“The election itself is very secure,” he said. “But social media, the rise of troll farms, the ability to manipulate, to really target the divisions in the country, that’s something we have to really talk about.”
The next federal election is scheduled for Oct. 21, 2019.