On November 16, 2020, The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (Cyber Centre) released the second annual National Cyber Threat Assessment. The report highlights the cyber threats facing both individuals and organizations across Canada.
Progressively, Canadian organizations and individuals have come to rely on the Internet for day to day activities. Accelerating this trend, to operate in agreement with current public health guidelines, COVID-19 has forced Canadians to a remote existence, working, shopping and socializing from the home office. Unfortunately, as more and more of our activities, businesses and personal information moves online, vulnerability to threat actors increases along in parallel.
National Cyber Threat Assessment Report
The National Cyber Threat Assessment, sourced both classified and unclassified information with the sole focus of identifying the current threat landscape faced by Canadian businesses that will have a direct effect on Canadians.
What sets this report apart is that, for maybe the first time, a Canadian security agency identifies select countries as posing a direct and strategic threat to Canadian national security. Those countries, namely China, Russia, Iran and North Korea represent the majority of state-sponsored cyber activity targeting Canadians, and Canadian-owned organizations.
While the threats reported are comparable to the 2018 report, the 2020 report stresses the differences in abundance, as well as, the “level of intensity and sophistication” of each. In particular, through ransomware, threat actors fiercely target critical infrastructure and Canadian corporations, disrupting services and networks increasing costs, through ransom, and service downtime. The report asserts that previously noted, state-sponsored threat actors will continue their plight in attempt to steal Canadian Intellectual property and proprietary information, especially where related to COVID-19. In addition, the report warns that state-sponsored threat actors will pursue commercial espionage against businesses, government agencies and academia, in Canada, noting those Canadian organizations running abroad as especially vulnerable.
In terms of critical infrastructure, the report outlines the likely probability that foreign threat actors are working towards their ability to tamper with Canadian electricity supply, municipal water supplies, dams, pipelines, transportation etc., as these processes become more connected to the internet. Another major concern from these foreign threat actors is their influence on domestic affairs, including elections. However, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security makes the bold assertion that, as long as Canada remains in the absence of international hostility, it is unlikely they would exercise this endeavour. That said, Canadian organizations should prepare themselves before these issues become a major threat to Canadians.
Preparing Canadian Organizations
Canadians’ continued adoption of new technologies and web-connected devices, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, presents new and more abundant threats to our great nation. Fortunately, many cyber threats may be mitigated through cybersecurity awareness training and best practices, policies and procedures to safeguard business continuity. As we’ve highlighted many times before, cyber threat operations will continue because threat actors seek to exploit human behaviours and social constructs, thus, defending strictly against technological vulnerabilities is not a viable option.
Protecting Canadian organizations against cyber threats and associated influence operations requires addressing both technical and social elements of cyber threat activity. Future cybersecurity investments will permit Canadians to benefit from new technologies while, at the same time, safeguarding against excessive risks to our safety, privacy, economy, and national security.