The Canadian federal election will likely be the subject of attempts at foreign interference.
But it is unlikely to be on the scale of the 2016 Russian meddling in the U.S. election, according to a new report by the country’s signals intelligence agency.
The Communications Security Establishment published its 2019 Update on Cyber Threats to Canada’s Democratic Process on Monday morning in Ottawa. In the report, it outlined that the attempts at foreign interference will likely echo what has been seen on a smaller scale in other advanced democracies in recent years.
“We judge it very likely that Canadian voters will encounter some form of foreign cyber interference related to the 2019 federal election,” the report stated.
“However, at this time, it is improbable that this foreign cyber interference will be of the scale of Russian activity against the 2016 United States presidential election.”
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The report continued, noting that intelligence officials believe the attempts at interference will see foreign adversaries attempt “to sway the ideas and decisions of voters by focusing on polarizing social and political issues, promoting the popularity of one party over another, or trying to shape the public statements and policy choices of a candidate.”
Malign actors also use cybertools to target the websites, email, social-media accounts, networks and devices of political parties, candidates and their staff, the report adds.
It comes just six months before Canadians head to the ballot box in a federal election, and after the government created a task force of five senior public servants who will decide when an act of foreign interference warrants an alert to the public.
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Electoral processes around the world have been targeted by cyberthreat activity in recent years, the CSE says, but noted the paper-based Canadian election system means the results of the vote itself have “very robust protections.”
It is likely, however, that adversaries will try to deface websites or steal personal information that could be used to send out incorrect information to Canadians, causing some kind of disruption to the election process, the report says.
The aim of such activity would be to “sow doubt among voters,” making them question the election’s legitimacy or discouraging them from even taking part.
Nefarious actors hijack Twitter accounts or open new ones that tweet about popular subjects like sports or entertainment to gain followers, the CSE notes.
“However, these accounts then switch to political messaging with Canadian themes following international events involving Canada.”
The report cites a 2016 episode in which false information appeared online about a “failed Canadian raid” against Russian separatist positions in Ukraine, alleging that 11 Canadian military personnel were killed. People shared an English-language version of the item over 3,000 times on Facebook.
Considerable evidence has pointed to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
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In 2017, 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.
Facebook later said an estimated 10 million people in the United States saw the ads.
In addition, the U.S. Justice Department has announced indictments against Russian intelligence agents for allegedly hacking Democratic party emails and computers during the 2016 campaign.
With files from the Canadian Press.