Harper Acknowledges “Growing Threat” of Cyberattacks

by Jordan Richardson on February 18, 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper reassured Canadians on Thursday that his government was taking cybersecurity very seriously. He noted that the government had a strategy in place to protect the country’s computer networks.

The announcement came in a press conference and seemed ultimately necessary following a series of unprecedented attacks that targeted the Finance Department, the Treasury Board, and Defence Research and Development Canada.

The attacks apparently came from China and gave hackers access to highly classified federal information, also forcing the Finance Department and Treasury Board off-line. It was first detected in January of 2011 and left Canada’s espionage department searching for answers as to how much information had been compromised and for how long. While the attack may have come from China, there’s no way of knowing if the hackers are Chinese or if they were routing through China to cover their tracks.

Harper’s Toronto press conference didn’t address the attacks specifically, but the PM did note that cybersecurity is “a growing issue of importance, not just in this country, but across the world.”

According to sources, the attack began when hackers using servers gained access to a number of Canadian government computers. They used this access to pose as federal executives and sent emails to department tech staff, gaining further access to government networks. The hackers also sent seemingly innocent memos as attachments to other staff members. The attachments contained virus programs and, from there, the network was compromised. The programs hunted for sensitive information and sent it back out to hackers around the world. The process, called “spear-phishing,” is considered deceptively simple and highly effective.

Back in 2002, Auditor General Sheila Fraser noted that the government’s defences against cyberattacks were not up to par. Fraser suggested an overhaul on the system, but three years later she noted that not much had changed. The government did propose spending $90 million over five years to improve things, but experts say that the amount is paltry compared to what’s being spent in other countries.

“The UK last year committed £650 million($1.03 billion Cdn) against national cyber security,” said cyber secruity expert Rafal Rohozinski.

Whether Harper’s acknowledgement of the “growing threat” of cyberattacks will lead to anything significant remains to be seen, but this government’s ongoing history of lagging shamefully behind on all things tech-related doesn’t bode well for the country’s ability to protect itself from today’s security threats.

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Written by: Jordan Richardson. www.digitcom.ca >. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com > by: RSS >, Twitter >, Identi.ca >, or Friendfeed >

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