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Ottawa focused on new cyber-security strategy

April 11, 2009

By Andrew Duffy
The Ottawa Citizen (Canada)
April 9, 2009

OTTAWA -- Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan
says Ottawa is developing a new cyber-security
strategy in light of repeated incursions into the
country’s key computer networks.

In an interview Wednesday, Van Loan told the
Ottawa Citizen computer hackers are constantly
inventing new methods of infiltration as previous holes are patched.

"It’s the new frontier. It’s kind of like the new
arms race: there are continuing escalations," he
said. "We don’t have a day go by when there isn’t
some effort by someone somewhere in the world to
breach government security systems."

To combat the mounting threat, he said, the
government is working on "an overall
cyber-security strategy" that encompasses both public and private sectors.

Canadian security officials are working closely
with U.S. counterparts since the two countries
share many key computer networks, including the
one that operates the North American electrical grid.

Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama
ordered a cyber-security review -- expected to
completed next week —of government operations in that country.

Van Loan made his comments in an interview
Wednesday, one day after the Wall Street Journal
reported cyberspies from China and Russia have
hacked the U.S. electrical grid. "The Chinese
have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as
the electrical grid," a senior intelligence
official told the newspaper. "So have the Russians."

Some experts fear computer viruses have been
implanted that could be activated to disrupt the system during a war or crisis.

The U.S. electrical grid is shared with Canada
and problems in the U.S. can quickly cause trouble in this country.

In August, 2003, for instance, a utility
company’s mistake in Ohio triggered a massive
blackout that crippled cities and towns across
Ontario, parts of Quebec, and eight northeastern states.

Van Loan said he could not comment on the
specifics of the U.S. report. But he suggested
Canadian officials have been made aware of the
cyber mapping of the electrical grid’s architecture.

"Those are the least of our problems "the ones we
know about," he said. "The problems I’m concerned
about are the ones I don’t know about, that we
haven’t seen yet, the vulnerabilities that are
there that haven’t been exploited yet. That’s
what we have to continue to protect ourselves against."

The Journal story comes on the heels of a report
by University of Toronto researchers, who
documented a vast electronic spy system, centred
in China, that has infiltrated 103 countries.

Known as GhostNet, the system has the ability to
turn on an infected computer’s camera and
microphone, offering spies an electronic window into a closed room.

Researchers at U of T’s Munk Centre for
International Studies began their cyber-sleuthing
after uncovering malicious software on computers
belonging to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, and his supporters.

They concluded cyber spies had successfully
searched the computers and tapped into e-mails.

Van Loan called the recent allegations about
computer spying "the tip of the iceberg."

"They are very small compared with the overall
activity taking place on the Internet," the minster said.

Van Loan said the biggest challenge in Canada is
raising awareness about the threat. Many of the
computers that would be targeted, he noted, are
owned by corporations that operate vital
infrastructure, such as banks, utilities, energy
firms, hospitals, airlines and broadcasters.

"We’re trying to encourage the private sector to
invest in more security, more protection," he
said. "But we’re dealing with new threats and
they’re sort of abstract until they actually get executed."

A deadline has not been set for the completion of
Canada’s new cyber security strategy.

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