A new academic analysis has identified at least 75 foreign digital activities of a malicious political or industrial nature targeting Canada since 2010 – from attempts to steal COVID-related research- 19 to targeting Uyghur human rights activists.
Report by researchers at the University of Quebec at Montreal’s Observatoire des conflits multidimensionnels found cyber espionage more than half of these episodes.
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This center brings together Canadian and international researchers studying how foreign players attempt to destabilize countries, weaken societies and institutions, and undermine critical systems through through cyberattacks, disinformation and political interference.
The analysis focuses on what the center considers strategic or geopolitical – events that are not primarily related to domestic politics or crime but to global and strategic competition.
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It said these events originate most often outside of Canada, often organized by foreign governments for political, economic or other purposes.
Targets include Canadian public authorities, the public, research institutions, and international companies, individuals or organizations based in Canada.
“Some target Canada specifically, while others target multiple countries including Canada.”
Canadian security agencies are increasingly vocal about cyberattacks from abroad that aim to steal valuable information or interfere in political affairs by spreading misconduct or even harm elected officials.
Cyberespionage targeting state secrets and intellectual property, as well as targeting individuals, accounted for 49 of the 75 incidents analyzed by the center.
The exact nature of cyber espionage campaigns is sometimes difficult to determine, the researchers warn, but about half are economic or industrial espionage efforts.
“These activities are aimed at large companies, universities and other dedicated R&D organizations, most relevant to the information technology, energy, financial and aerospace industries. “
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Some digital espionage has been targeted at Canadian government agencies.
Among other efforts aimed at Canada since early 2010:
- 15 cases of information manipulation – the intentional, coordinated spread of disinformation or bias in cyberspace with hostile intent
- five cases of digital espionage – fraudulent intrusion into computer systems to map or assess vulnerabilities
- four surfacing operations, involving the takeover or alteration of a website or account for hostile political purposes
- four stages of doing – intentionally disclosing personal information about people to humiliate, intimidate or punish them.
The researchers traced most of the geopolitical leaders in Canada during the period to China, Russia, Iran or North Korea. However, they note that the governments of these countries are not necessarily involved. Rather, the non-state forces there may have acted on their own.
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The report also highlights three major, worrisome trends: the growing digital surveillance of activists in Canada by foreign powers, the expansion of the cyber industry, and the massive rise on the number of ransomware attacks.
“Hackers for hire are often used by authoritarian countries to spy on political opponents, spy on NGOs and journalists, or steal personal information in order to blackmail and harass people.” dissent,” the report said.
“Cyberspace now offers countries countless new avenues of espionage and surveillance everywhere in the world, without much risk of retaliation.”
The researchers say that while Canada is unlikely to be the primary target of cyber-retaliation for supporting Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion, there are reasons to be wary.
Russia could encourage its cybercriminal networks to intensify their attacks – particularly ransomware attacks – against Canadian organizations, especially those who have committed malicious acts. concrete action against Moscow.
The report adds that, despite efforts by NATO members to prevent any escalation, Russia could try to target critical Western infrastructure, such as the power grid. .
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