*Image courtesy of itworldcanada.com
By Andriyha Soans
Computer technology today is ubiquitous. In 2017, there was an estimated 3 billion hand held devices in circulation across the globe with a 50 per cent increase expected by 2020.[i] These devices, while making everyday living more convenient, create a greater risk of exposure to security breaches on an individual, as well as institutional level. On an individual level, malicious cyber actors are now able to steal personal information like passwords and financial information such as bank details and social insurance numbers. When scaled up to institutions the size of governments, the risk of damage increases exponentially. This is especially true when considering that governments are responsible for critical infrastructure and that state actors are increasingly implicated in attacks on foreign nations via cyber tools.
For instance, North Korea has remotely stolen money, including nearly $81 million USD from Bangladesh’s central bank. Russia has been accused of using a range of online methods to influence the 2016 US presidential election and has engaged in a wide spectrum of actions against its neighbours. Disturbingly, this includes turning off power stations in Ukraine and bringing down government websites in both Georgia and Estonia. Israel is also suspected of using a cyber operation in conjunction with its bombing raid on a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 by temporarily ‘tricking’ a part of Syria’s air defence system to allow its fighter jets to enter the country undetected.[ii] As such, the need for Canada to upgrade security online has never been greater.
To shore up Canada’s cybersecurity, the Canadian government launched a national effort in 2010 with Canada’s first Cyber Security Strategy. The initiative was successful in that there was a decline in the number of data breaches since 2010. Various levels of government are now also working closely with the private sector to secure critical infrastructure; and there is expanding investment in cyber security awareness amongst those agencies tasked with combating cybercrimes.[iii] Plans to expand this initiative were announced in October 2018 with the official launch of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, Canada’s national authority on cyber security and cyber threat responses.[iv] Policymakers intend the centre to bring cyber experts from Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Public Safety and Shared Services together to act as a central and trusted government source of information, advice and guidance for Canadian enterprises, critical infrastructure owners and operators, and the public.[v]
However, if Canada wants to safeguard itself against ever evolving cyber-attacks in the future, our capabilities must move from merely defensive to developing offensive capabilities. A good first step in this direction would be to observe and learn from Australia, a comparable nation with mature cyber security policies. Both nations share a close relationship historically that stems from common values. As modern democracies, they are also committed to human rights and the rule of law. [vi] Canada and Australia’s armed forces are of a comparable size and have a long history of cooperation, most recently as partners in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Australia is also a member of the “Five-Eyes Network” alongside Canada. [vii]
A key factor in Australia’s advancement in cyber security is its forward-thinking re-organization of government divisions. Australia’s cyber capabilities reside within the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). This agency is directly involved in supporting military operations, law enforcement activities, or deterring and responding to serious cyber incidents against Australian interests.[viii] This level of integration of cyber capabilities with traditional defence not only enhances existing abilities of all involved but also creates new capabilities. Additionally, these advantages are created at relatively modest cost, compared to the value added.[ix]Currently, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s signals intelligence agency, is limited to foreign signals collection, electronic and information infrastructure defence and assisting security and law enforcement agencies and does not possess any offensive capabilities.
To ensure that Canada’s cyber capabilities continue to evolve and outpace cyber threats, it is crucial that the government find ways to increase the recruitment and retention of cyber experts.
The ever evolving nature of cyber security demands personnel with a diverse skillset. Individuals in STEM and other relevant disciplines (such as Psychology and Sociology) must be recruited and trained to specialize in the skills necessary for cyber security positions. Attracting a multidisciplinary pool of talent will greatly enhance Canada’s ability to anticipate and creatively respond to cyber threats.[x] Any cybersecurity personnel will also require to be compensated according to industry standards so as to retain their specific skill set. Furthermore, A closer collaboration is required between the government and private firms in the technology sector. The government would greatly benefit from the knowledge and expertise of the private sector, while also supporting homegrown Canadian firms.
Lastly, Canada would do well to observe and adopt cyber security practices from, another cybersecurity giant: the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Israel is the fourth most technologically advanced state, after Japan, the United States of America and South Korea,[xi] and invests heavily in its cyber defence units. While Canada and Israel differ in significant ways, it is important to note that many of Australia’s current policy and military initiatives regarding cybersecurity follow examples set by Israel. As such, it can be argued that Canada has the potential to learn from and reshape Israel’s superior cybersecurity practices to fit its own needs.
Andriyha Soans is a MA candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. She is currently interning with the CDA Institute.
[i] Kharpal, Arjun. “Smartphone Market worth $355 Billion, with 6 Billion Devices in Circulation by 2020: Report.” CNBC. January 17, 2017. Accessed March 03, 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/17/6-billion-smartphones-will-be-in-circulation-in-2020-ihs-report.html.
[ii] Hanson, Fergus, and Tom Uren. “Australia’s Offensive Cyber Capability.” Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Accessed March 04, 2019. https://www.aspi.org.au/report/australias-offensive-cyber-capability.
[iii] “National Cyber Security Strategy Canada’s Vision for Security and Prosperity in the Digital Age.” Public Safety Canada / Sécurité Publique Canada. June 12, 2018. Accessed March 05, 2019. https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/ntnl-cbr-scrt-strtg/index-en.aspx.
[iv] Toolkit, Web Experience. “The Minister of National Defence Announces the Launch of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security.” Communications Security Establishment. October 01, 2018. Accessed March 05, 2019. https://www.cse-cst.gc.ca/en/media/media-2018-10-01.
[vi] National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, “Canada-Australia Defence Relations”. 6 July 2018. online http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/news/article.page?doc=canada-australia-defence-relations/hgq87xs8.
[viii] Hanson, Fergus, and Tom Uren. “Australia’s Offensive Cyber Capability.” Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Accessed March 04, 2019. https://www.aspi.org.au/report/australias-offensive-cyber-capability.
[ix] Hanson, Fergus, and Tom Uren. “Australia’s Offensive Cyber Capability.” Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Accessed March 04, 2019. https://www.aspi.org.au/report/australias-offensive-cyber-capability.
[x] “National Cyber Security Strategy Canada’s Vision for Security and Prosperity in the Digital Age.” Public Safety Canada / Sécurité Publique Canada. June 12, 2018. Accessed March 05, 2019.
[xi] “12 Most Technologically Advanced Nations in the World (photos).” Protothema.gr News in English. Accessed February 26, 2019. http://en.protothema.gr/12-most-technologically-advanced-nations-in-the-world-photos/.