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Cyber defence agency gets significant boost in Liberals’ Budget 2022

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Canada’s cybersecurity agency and government efforts to curb state-backed misinformation are poised to receive an influx of cash as part of the Liberals’ 2022 budget.

The spending program laid out plans to significantly boost spending at the Communications Security Establishment – Canada’s cybersecurity and espionage agency – while also spending millions on combating financial crimes and state-pushed propaganda.

Read more: Canada’s treasury ‘depleted’ as budget weans COVID spending, eyes uncertainty

The lion’s share of the money – $696.5 million over five years – is earmarked for the CSE, which is responsible for defending government networks and providing cybersecurity advice, but also collecting foreign signals intelligence and launching offensive cyberattacks. That’s a significant boost for CSE, which had a total budget of $794 million in 2020-21.

“As Canadians grow more dependent on digital systems, the potential consequences of cyber incidents continue to increase, and Canada needs to be ready,” the budget document read.

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The new funding includes $263.9 million over five years to boost CSE’s capabilities to “launch cyber operations,” which includes offensive cyber operations directed at hostile actors attempting to hack or disrupt Canadian targets.

It also includes $180.3 million over the same period to “prevent and respond to cyber attacks” on Canadian critical infrastructure – an area of increasing concern for cybersecurity experts once again brought to the fore by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Another $252.3 million over five years will be earmarked for the agency’s efforts to make “critical government systems more resilient to cyber incidents.”

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The increased funding comes as part of the Liberals’ broader boost to defence spending. The government has been under pressure to meet its commitment to NATO to spend two per cent of GDP on defence, and that pressure has increased as the Atlantic alliance has grappled with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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The budget falls short of that target, but does lay out a plan to boost defence spending by $8 billion over five years. David Perry, the president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the new money for CSE appears to be the most “concrete” set of investments laid out in the budget.

“We’ve seen in the last couple of months (an) increased focus on the potential threat posed by Russia and others to our critical infrastructure, for defending government networks,” Perry said in an interview, adding he believes the money is “needed.”

The budget also commits $89.9 million over five years to assist the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), which tracks and investigates financial crimes and money laundering. According to the budget, that’s a 24 per cent increase to FINTRAC’s budget, and will assist in the agency’s push to apply anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules to crowdfunding platforms.

The government is also proposing to create a new body, the Financial Crimes Agency, which would become “Canada’s lead enforcement agency in this area.” The government is committing $2 million to allow Public Safety Canada to do the preliminary work to design the new agency, with more details expected later this year.

The Privy Council Office, the central co-ordinating department of the federal government, will also receive $10 million over five years to implement “government-wide measures designed to combat disinformation and protect (Canadian) democracy.”

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