Canada targeted in election year for foreign cyber interference, spy agency says

Canadians are vulnerable to foreign interference in this fall’s federal election — and the meddling is already underway, according to a new report from Canada’s electronic spy agency.

The Communications Security Establishment says since the 2015 federal election, Canadian political leaders and the Canadian public have been targeted by foreign cyber interference activities.

The details come in a new report entitled “2019 update: cyber threats to Canada’s democratic process,” released Monday.

The report says more than one foreign foe has wielded cyber tools on social media to spread false or misleading information about Canada on Twitter, “likely to polarize Canadians or undermine Canada’s foreign policy goals.”

In another example, the CSE — tasked with protecting some of Canada’s most valuable electronic information and gathering foreign signals intelligence — says a foreign adversary has manipulated information on social media to boost views highly critical of the government legislation imposing sanctions and banning foreign officials accused of human rights violations from travelling.

The signal agency’s report says while Canada is likely to feel some sort of foreign cyber interference ahead and during the October election, it’s unlikely to rival our neighbours to the south.

“Even if a foreign adversary does develop strategic intent to interfere with Canada’s democratic process, we consider foreign cyber interference of the scale of Russian activity against the 2016 United States presidential election improbable at this time in Canada in 2019,” it notes.

“However, we judge it is very likely that Canadian voters will encounter some form of foreign cyber interference ahead of, and during, the 2019 federal election.”

Be aware of false information

While Canada’s paper-based elections provide some shelter from interference, enemies could try to undermine Canada’s trust in the democratic process, says the agency.

“It is likely, however, that adversaries will try to deface a website or steal personal information that could be used to send out incorrect information to Canadians, causing an inconvenience or disruption to the election process,” said the report.

“The aim of such activity would be to sow doubt among voters, causing them to question the legitimacy of the election. This activity may even discourage certain voters from participating in the democratic process entirely.”

Monday’s assessment comes as a follow to the agency’s 2017 report on threats.

“Since we published our June 2017 report, cyber threat activity against democratic processes has become even more prevalent worldwide,” says the report. “We assess that the likelihood of cyber threats targeting Canada’s democratic process during the 2019 federal election has increased.

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