CSE responded to over 2,200 cyberattacks last year amid heightened concern over Chinese and Russian hacks

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A spokesperson representing the agency said 2020 was the first year the CSE began publicly disclosing how often it intervened in attacks targeting the federal government.

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OTTAWA – Canada’s digital spy agency responded to more than 2,000 attacks on the federal government and its critical infrastructure partners last year, new report says, amid heightened concerns over use cyber warfare tactics by foreign actors.

In its annual report, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) said it provided assistance to the Government of Canada or its critical infrastructure partners 2,206 times, including 84 incidents “affecting the health sector in Canada”. This is the latest in a number of recent reports detailing the higher frequency of cyber attacks directed against Canada, including a recent report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) which revealed “the activity of espionage and foreign interference at levels not seen since the Cold War. », Played mainly by actors supported by Chinese and Russians.

The CSE report, released on Monday, said the agency filed 2,528 foreign intelligence reports in 2020 to “alert and notify” government officials in 28 departments and agencies of attempted cyber attacks. CSE typically identifies between two and seven billion “malicious actions” against Government of Canada networks each day, he said.

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The report did not provide comparable figures on the number of attacks against Canada in recent years. A spokesperson representing the agency said 2020 was the first year the CSE began publicly disclosing how often it intervened in attacks targeting the federal government. Agency officials also declined to provide details on the nature of the attacks on Canada’s public health sector.

In recent years, intelligence experts have warned of the increasing frequency of cyber attacks by foreign states, especially as commerce and communication lines increasingly go digital.

  1. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a meeting at the National Cyber ​​Security Center on April 18, 2018 in London, England.

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  2. Communications Security Establishment Chief Greta Bossenmaier speaks with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale while waiting to appear before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in Ottawa on Thursday, November 30, 2017.

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Calls for Western democratic nations to redouble their efforts to protect sensitive networks intensified last year, after the high-profile hack by Texas-based software maker SolarWinds, which affected at least nine U.S. government agencies and 100 companies. .

The attack, which infiltrated the US Treasury and Commerce departments, originated in Russia, according to US officials. Earlier this year, Microsoft, which was also targeted by the SolarWinds hack, said that a Chinese hacking group it calls “Hafnium” targeted its email business used by many companies. The group had previously attempted to steal information from defense contractors, law firms and infectious disease experts, the company said.

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While cyber attacks are not new, recent attacks on pipelines, government agencies and software developers in the United States and elsewhere are evidence of the increasingly sophisticated methods used by hackers, experts say.

A 2019 report from Clairvoyance Cyber, which provides advisory services to CSIS and the RCMP, identified a range of “sophisticated and multifaceted” ways in which Chinese governments and others attack their Western allies, often through Chinese tech giants like Huawei Technologies.

“Hostile intelligence services and the armed forces will continue to exploit, interfere with and influence Canadian interests at home and abroad, using cyberspace as part of a larger hybrid war campaign.” , indicates the report, according to a report of Global News.

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U.S. security experts have also expressed concern about the changing methods hackers use, after private intelligence firm DomainTools LLC suggested that the hack into Microsoft’s email activity was likely carried out through US-based servers. United to avoid detection by US intelligence agencies. .

Earlier this year, David Vigneault, the director of CSIS, released a report that sounded the alarm on the nature of foreign attacks on Canada in particular, saying cyber attacks have reached levels not seen since the 1990s.

“The major national security threats facing Canada – violent extremism, foreign interference, espionage and malicious cyber activity – have accelerated, evolved and, in many ways, become much more serious for Canadians, ”the study said.

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The CSIS report did not provide figures on the attacks, claiming only that they marked a “sharp increase” from previous years.

Also in its report, CSIS said countries like China attempt to “deceptively influence” the Canadian government to their advantage, including by harassing, manipulating or intimidating various groups in Canada in order to increase support. to their policies or to silence any voice. of dissent.

An example of “significant concern,” he said, were threats from actors affiliated with the People’s Republic of China who “exploit essential freedoms that are otherwise protected by Canadian society and the government in order to advance the interests of the People’s Republic of China. policies of the Chinese Communist Party. . “

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