Hackers ‘constantly probing’ federal computers: Canada’s electronic spy chief

Malicious hackers are “constantly probing” federal computer systems so they can break in and steal coveted information, says the head of Canada’s electronic spy agency.

OTTAWA — Malicious hackers are “constantly probing” federal computer systems so they can break in and steal coveted information, says the head of Canada’s electronic spy agency.

Communications Security Establishment Canada chief John Forster says the revelation this week that a Chinese state-sponsored player infiltrated the National Research Council’s computer network shows Canada is not immune from such aggression.

China has vehemently denied involvement in the cyberattack, accusing Canada of making baseless accusations.

But Forster used the attack on the research council — whose specialists study everything from aerospace technology to crop science — to defend CSEC’s role in protecting federal computers.

“These malicious actors are constantly probing Government of Canada systems and networks for weaknesses so that they infiltrate them and steal valuable information,” Forster wrote in a letter to the editor of the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper.

“When we detect emails or other communications that contain malware or other threats, we block, collect and analyze them. And, we work with appropriate departments to take action to neutralize the threat.”

The spy service takes strict measures to protect the privacy of Canadians in doing such work, Forster insisted.

CSEC employs mathematicians, codebreakers, linguists and software experts with the aim of both collecting foreign secrets and shielding Canada’s confidences from prying eyes.

Leaked revelations from Edward Snowden, a former U.S. intelligence contractor, have raised questions about the CSEC’s surveillance activities, which include monitoring foreign email and telephone communications for information of intelligence interest to Canada.

The intrusion at the National Research Council, and the government’s public declaration of CSEC’s role in detecting it, underscore the agency’s defensive work in cyberspace.

CSEC says it cannot monitor global communications in the modern era of Internet-based traffic without sweeping up at least some Canadian information.

As a result, the defence minister specially authorizes CSEC’s cyberdefence efforts. Otherwise, these activities would risk violating the Criminal Code provision against intercepting private Canadian communications.

The agency doesn’t keep personal information about Canadians if the material is considered irrelevant to protecting networks, Forster said in the letter to the Globe.

However, the spy agency has acknowledged that it maintains an information bank containing the personal information of “potentially any individual” who communicates electronically with a key federal computer network while CSEC is assessing its vulnerability.

For instance, the personal information of a Canadian might be kept if a foreign cyberattacker engages in phishing — an attempt to compromise a government department’s system by sending a carefully crafted email that appears to originate from a known or trusted sender, the spy agency says.

Follow (at)JimBronskill on Twitter

Just Posted

Trudeau poised to shuffle, retool cabinet with focus on Liberals’ team for 2019

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau will shuffle his front benches Wednesday to install… Continue reading

Aecon Group joint venture wins Enbridge Line 3 replacement contract

TORONTO — Aecon Group Inc. says its joint venture with Robert B.… Continue reading

Conservative party pulls attack ad of black man walking over Trudeau tweet

OTTAWA — The Conservative party pulled an attack ad from its Twitter… Continue reading

Groundbreaking ceremony held for new international bridge

DETROIT — U.S. and Canadian officials touted the friendship between the two… Continue reading

Elon Musk apologizes for calling cave rescue diver a ‘pedo’

BANGKOK — Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has apologized for calling… Continue reading

Lab-grown meat could be in restaurants in 3 years

BERLIN — A Dutch company that presented the world’s first lab-grown beef… Continue reading

Duchess of Sussex wears dress by Calgary’s Nonie to Mandela exhibition

CALGARY — A fondness for Canadian fashion apparently hasn’t waned for Meghan,… Continue reading

Destiny’s Child singer Williams seeks mental health help

LOS ANGELES — Destiny’s Child singer Michelle Williams says she’s seeking help… Continue reading

A Comic-Con without Marvel, HBO gives others a chance to pop

Over 130,000 pop culture devotees are descending on San Diego’s Gaslamp District… Continue reading

Record 10 homers as AL wins All-Star Game 8-6 in 10 innings

American League 8 National League 6 (1o innings) WASHINGTON — A record… Continue reading

Photos: Red Deer barn dance entertains children, adults Tuesday

Hundreds of Central Albertans started their Westerner Days celebrations early with an… Continue reading

Man suffers critical injuries, Red Deer police arrest woman in pedestrian crash

A man is in hospital with critical injuries and Mounties have arrested… Continue reading

Cull hasn’t been able to solve bunny burden in Alberta mountain town of Canmore

CANMORE, Alta. — Problems persist in an Alberta mountain town overrun with… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month