At least 75 foreign cyber threats against Canada identified in report

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At least 75 foreign cyber threats against Canada identified in report

Canada is regularly the target of cyberattacks from abroad.

A new academic analysis has identified at least 75 foreign cyber threats of a political or industrial nature targeting Canada since 2010, ranging from attempts to steal research related to COVID-19 to targeting Uyghur human rights activists.

The report by researchers from the Multidimensional Conflict Observatory at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) found that cyber espionage accounted for more than half of these episodes.

The center brings together Canadian and international researchers who study how foreign actors attempt to destabilize states, weaken societies and institutions, and undermine critical systems through cyberattacks, disinformation, and misinformation. political interference.

The analysis focuses on what the center considers to be geopolitical or strategic cyber incidents, that is, events that are not primarily related to criminal or national political activity, but rather to global rivalries. and strategic competition.

These events are said to be most often staged outside of Canada, usually orchestrated by foreign governments for political, economic or political purposes. others.

Targets include Canadian public authorities, the general public, research institutions and businesses, individuals or international organizations based in Canada.

Some targeted Canada specifically, while others targeted several countries, including Canada, the report reads.

Canadian security agencies are increasingly vocal about cyber threats from abroad, which aim to steal valuable information or interfere in political affairs by spreading falsehoods or even compromising elected officials.

Cyber ​​espionage targeting state secrets and intellectual property and targeted surveillance of individuals accounted for 49 of the 75 incidents analyzed by the center.

The researchers caution that the exact nature of cyber espionage campaigns was sometimes difficult to determine, but about half were economic or industrial espionage activities.

“These operations targeted large corporations, universities and other R&D entities, most involved in the IT, energy, finance and aerospace. »

— Excerpt from the report of the Multidimensional Conflict Observatory of the University of Quebec in Montreal

Several digital espionage operations targeted Canadian government agencies.

Other schemes targeting Canada since 2010 include:

  • 15 cases of manipulation of information — intentional and coordinated spreading of false or biased information through cyberspace for hostile purposes;
  • 5 cases of digital reconnaissance — fraudulently entering a computer system in order to map or identify it. #x27;assess vulnerabilities;
  • 4 defamation operations, involving taking over or modifying an eeb site or account for hostile political purposes;
  • 4 episodes of “doxing” — the intentional disclosure of personal information about individuals in order to humiliate, threaten or punish them.

The researchers traced the vast majority of geopolitical cyber incidents in Canada during the period examined to China, Russia, Iran or North Korea. However, they point out that the governments of these countries were not necessarily involved. The non-state forces there could have acted on their own.

The report also highlights three major disturbing trends: the growing digital surveillance of activists in Canada by foreign powers, the expansion of the cybermercenary industry, and the huge growth in the number of attacks. by ransomware.

Hacker hacks are often employed by authoritarian states to stalk political opponents, spy on NGOs and journalists, or steal personal information for blackmail and harassment dissidents, the document says.

“Cyberspace now offers nation states countless new opportunities for espionage and surveillance anywhere in the world, with little risk of retaliation. »

— Excerpt from the report of the Multidimensional Conflict Observatory of the University of Quebec in Montreal

Researchers say that even if Canada does not seem not be the main target of cyber retaliation for supporting Ukraine after the invasion of Russia, there are reasons to be vigilant.

Russia could encourage its cybercriminal networks to step up their attacks — especially ransomware attacks — against Canadian organizations, including those that have taken specific action against Moscow.

Despite efforts deployed by NATO members to prevent escalation, it is also conceivable that Russia may eventually try to target Western critical infrastructure, such as power grids, the report adds.

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