March 25, 2018 11:29 am
Updated: March 26, 2018 10:23 am

‘The need to be more vigilant is there’ as 2019 election approaches: CSE

WATCH ABOVE: Cybersecurity and privacy are no longer mutually exclusive: Jones


One of the government’s top experts on cybersecurity confirms his department is gearing up for possible hacks and attempts to influence the 2019 federal election, but they’re not focused on one particular country.

Scott Jones, assistant deputy minister at the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), told The West Block‘s David Akin that he anticipates “an increasing level of influence” by potentially malicious actors during the next federal vote.

“Certainly the technology is evolving, and we’re seeing more and more use of social media, for example, to shape our opinions and actually to drive some of that content,” Jones said.

“The (Canadian) election itself is quite robust, in terms of how it’s run. But politicians and political parties themselves and media were the ones that we judged more vulnerable to this type of influence operation.”

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The breadth of possible outside influence on the American electorate ahead of 2016’s presidential vote is still being uncovered, with Russia suspected of engaging in targeting hacking to try to sway the outcome.

Most recently, revelations surrounding the actions of private company Cambridge Analytica and the harvesting of personal data via Facebook have raised new questions and concerns.

READ MORE: Why Canada’s low-tech voting system would be hard to sabotage

Asked if the CSE is focusing on defending Canada from any particular state actors like Russia or China, Jones said that’s not generally how they approach things in cybersecurity.

“For us, we really don’t look at country-specific,” he noted. “We look at how to protect against the majority of the threats, what type of vectors they would use — any organization could use — because, for us, any compromise is significant.”

Jones said he sees cybersecurity and privacy as deeply interconnected in the modern world.

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For almost a year now, the CSE has made advice and training available to all federal parties to help them prepare for the 2019 campaign and vote.

“It’s certainly become the issue of the day … the need to be more vigilant is there,” Jones noted, adding that he won’t make any pronouncement on any one party’s level of preparedness.

The federal government made major new investments in election security and overall cybersecurity in its most recent budget, and the CSE will soon be granted broad new powers involving defensive and “active” cyberoperations. Those powers have been controversial, however, with some critics saying that the CSE will have too much latitude.

READ MORE: Here’s what you need to know about Canada’s ‘extraordinarily permissive’ new spying laws

“One of the key things we’ve talked about is that it’s important to take a team approach to this. Cybersecurity isn’t just the responsibility of the federal government, and certainly not just CSE,” Jones said.

Academia, industry, critical infrastructure partners and individual Canadians all have a role to play, he explained.

“We can be a group of a million, or 36 million, if we work together.”

— Watch the full interview with the CSE’s Scott Jones above

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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