Canada names China, Russia as key cyber-crime threats

Canada’s electronic spy agency for the first time named countries such as China and Russia as the greatest “strategic threat” to this country, warning they are developing cyber capabilities to disrupt critical infrastructure such as electricity supply.

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) released its annual threat assessment report Wednesday, identifying China, Russia, North Korea and Iran as the most active nations attempting to steal technology or create divisions within Canadian society.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, large medical and biopharmaceutical companies in Canada and abroad have been targeted by state-sponsored cyber threat actors attempting to steal intellectual property related to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines,” CSE said.

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“We assess that it is almost certain that state-sponsored actors will continue attempting to steal Canadian intellectual property related to combatting COVID-19 in order to support their own domestic public health response or to profit from its illegal reproduction by their own firms.”

Since the start of COVID-19, these countries have also gained access to hospitals in Canada and around the world “compromising both IT networks and…imaging products used in the healthcare industry.”

These countries are also developing cyber capabilities to disrupt Canadian critical infrastructure, such as electricity supply, but are unlikely to act in ways to cause major damage unless there is an outbreak of “international hostilities,” the report said.

In a foreword to the report, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan warned the internet is at a “crossroads” because Russia and China are pushing to change the way it is governed and “to turn it into a tool for censorship, surveillance and state control.”

CSE said Russia and Iran are also active as online trolls, using fraudulent Twitter accounts to highlight divisions in Canadian society over immigration, pipeline politics or terrorism. It cited the January 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting and the June 2019 approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project as examples of events that were targeted by trolls.