New Canadian cybersecurity centre to look at election interference threats

A fresh look at Canada's ability to defend against possible online threats to the next national election will among the new federal cybersecurity centre's first tasks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A fresh look at Canada’s ability to defend against possible online threats to the next national election will be one of a new federal cybersecurity centre’s first tasks.

An updated version of a groundbreaking report on lurking dangers to electoral integrity will be issued in the new year, said Scott Jones, head of the fledgling Canadian Centre for Cyber Security.

The new federal body aims to be a clearinghouse of information, advice and guidance on threats for the public, Canadian businesses, and owners and operators of critical infrastructure, such as power grids and banking systems.

“We want to be that trusted source of information for Canadians,” Jones said in an interview.

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“We want to be out there, we want to be answering questions.”

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The centre, a wing of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s electronic spy agency, brings together experts from the CSE, Public Safety and Shared Services.

It will exist virtually until fully up and running in a publicly accessible facility in the National Capital Region some time in 2019.

The CSE warned in a report for the Liberal government last year that cyberthreat activity against the democratic process is increasing around the world, and Canada is not immune.

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Mounting evidence has since pointed to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In September of last year, Facebook said hundreds of dubious accounts, likely operated out of Russia, spent about $100,000 on some 3,000 ads about contentious issues such as LGBT rights, race, immigration and guns from June 2015 to May 2017. Millions of people in the United States saw the ads.

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In addition, the U.S. Justice Department has announced indictments against 12 Russian intelligence agents for allegedly hacking Democratic party emails and computers during the 2016 campaign.

Jones said the new centre would pick up the thread of the CSE’s work with the hope an updated report will “continue the dialogue and the discussion around the threats to our broader election security.”

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He believes that while the electoral system itself is quite secure, media and political parties are more vulnerable to cyberthreats.

The CSE provided a briefing to political parties following the report last year, and offered to work with them by providing general cybersecurity advice, Jones said.

“The fact is, we always have to be vigilant. We always have to be looking for what the next threat is.”

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