Oct 31, 2017

by Ken Pole, FrontLine correspondent

News that foreign state-operated hackers try to gain access to federal government’s computer networks approximately 50 times a week – and that at least one tends to be successful – prompted Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to underscore the need to “just keep working and win the race” even as hackers seem to stay one step ahead of security efforts.

In the last budget, we invested $77 million over a period of time to enhance our cyber security capacity,” he told reporters on Parliament Hill today, adding that a full security plan would be “forthcoming in the weeks ahead.”

Goodale noted that the government’s original plan, unveiled by the former Conservative administration in 2010, was considered “groundbreaking and ahead of the curve” but rapidly changing technologies have meant that departments and agencies “need to make sure that we have the technical capacity, the governance, the partnerships and the proactive vision to ensure that Canadians are safe.”

Asked where the hacking might originate, he replied that it comes from “all over”, including organized crime, foreign militaries, organized crime and “geeks in the basement”, facilitated by relatively cheap programs. “They’re trying to probe government systems, commercial systems, infrastructure systems. Some of it is just nuisance, some of it is criminal in intent, some of it is espionage and sabotage.”

Goodale said the agencies responsible for countering these efforts, notably the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), “do an absolutely remarkable job in – in defending from this onslaught […] every day.” That being said, “we constantly have to renew and bolster and strengthen the strategy. Steps have already been taken and we will continue this process.”

He also stressed that while the CSE “obviously has a role” to play and the fundamental governance structure is the government’s jurisdiction, “we will build partnerships with other levels of government and with the private sector in order to make sure that everyone is participating in their own area of responsibility.”

Given persistent rumours about Russian meddling in the last U.S. federal election campaign, he was asked whether he has concerns about similar initiatives against Canada. He pointed out that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had already mandated Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould and Elections Canada “to see all the various ways that we can make ourselves less vulnerable.”

The fact that cyber attacks cost the global economy “something like $400 billion” annually and could rise to $2 trillion in the next few years, prompted the minister to say that tackling hackers represents a “huge opportunity” in terms of potentially thousands of new jobs, research and advanced manufacturing. “This is a huge economic development tool if we set our minds to being the best at cyber security.”

– Ken Pole