Canada's Cyber Infrastructure Keeps Getting Attacked

The latest cyber attack by Chinese hackers is just the latest in a string of Canadian cyber incidents.

Aug 2 2014, 11:00am

Canadian parliament/Lord of the Wings/Flickr

After Chinese hackers spent the last month infiltrating Canada's National Research Council (NRC), an organization presiding over some of the countries most cherished scientific research and development, Canadians have been looking for assurances it won't happen again.

But in an updated statement on the NRC website, the Canadian feds offered little besides cryptic reassurances, having already admitted that CSEC originally detected the Beijing hackers before it was too late.

"NRC has taken additional steps to protect its information and the information of its clients and stakeholders by isolating its information holdings and redesigning internal protocols and security procedures," read the statement.

Along with its "security partners," which is undoubtedly the Canadian signals intelligence agency in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, NRC is promising to secure its IT infrastructure within the coming months to mitigate another event.

"Addressing this situation remains the top priority for NRC," said the release, which is scantly any more of an update than its original release Tuesday. "In the longer term, NRC will work with Government of Canada IT experts to build a new IT infrastructure to integrate within the broader Government of Canada network to mitigate the risk of future cyber threats of this nature."

The NRC statement is extremely light on the specifics of how exactly the Canadian government plans on tackling the newest breach in its security network. While staying mum, the feds do admit that fixing the issue "could take approximately one year" before it's comfortable with how information is stored in internal networks. 

And it should be. The NRC is an organization that keeps records on the Canadian aerospace industry—a known industry target of Chinese hackers who've reportedly already stolen the plans for Lockheed's F35 south of the border, which they've reportedly merged with designs for their own J20 fighter.

But the latest Chinese salvo in the cyberwar against a Five Eyes nation showcases Canada's own growing list of network breaches, calling its overall digital infrastructure into question.

Just this April, a teenaged hacker from London, Ontario managed to crack the Canadian Revenue Agency website using the Heartbleed exploit. The hacker gleaned the private information of thousands of Canadians, hours after the well-known vulnerability was warned about by one Canadian cybersecurity expert.

Add to that, the persistent spear-phishing attacks on the Canadian Intellectual Properties Office (which bears the markings of Chinese hackers), or the infamous case of Jeffrey Delisle

The ex-naval intelligence officer was able to walk into one of Canada's most important Department of Defence buildings and download top secret documents using a USB stick he just jammed into his government work station. After that, Delisle simply dropped off the intel to the Russians for a measly sum.

It doesn't end there, either. This week theToronto Star's Alex Boutilier reported that 101 breaches of private information had occurred since April in an array of federal departments, including some from the NRC. In another report published yesterday, Boutilier shows how government officials are even aware of insufficient network security in some departments.

There are other signs the feds are aware there's a problem, too. In July, David Pugliese of theOttawa Citizenpublished a DND email detailing the new email system for the department.

Included among a list of new features was, "up-to-date technology that addresses more than 300 security requirements, provides greater privacy protection, and standardizes email security." 

It's worth noting that most spear-phishing attacks found in Access documents, listing a number of breaches to a federal department in 2012, involved hackers sending emails under the identity of other federal workers, to gain sensitive information. Those attackers use their fake identity to obtain information they use to infiltrate an overall network.

To be fair to the Canadians, they may just be another victim in a growing list of targets Chinese hackers have successfully infiltrated. Even the Israelis, a country with well-documented counterintelligence capabilities, recently fell victim to Beijing-based attackers. Israel's Iron Dome system, the pearl of its anti-rocket operation against Hamas, was infiltrated by Chinese hackers. 

But in the Canadian government's official Cyber Security Strategy report, published in 2010, under the title "Strengthening the Security of Federal Cyber Systems," the feds vaguely promise to "enhance the security of its cyber architecture. It will continue to reduce the number of Internet gateways into its computer systems, and take other measures to secure systems."

Whatever those plans are for the Harper government to combat cyber weaknesses, if the silence of NRC is any measurement, it won't be letting Canadians know how it plans on turning the tide of persistent attacks. Not to mention, a laundry list of attacks have happened since publication of that exact strategy. 

So the real question is, what Canadian department will be the next victim of a rogue teenage hacker or a Chinese spy?