A computer wrapped in padlocked chains is seen in Montreal in a Dec. 14, 2012, photo illustration. The sort of brazen digital attack that recently shut down a key U.S. energy pipeline could strike Canada, says the head of the federal cyberprotection agency. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

A computer wrapped in padlocked chains is seen in Montreal in a Dec. 14, 2012, photo illustration. The sort of brazen digital attack that recently shut down a key U.S. energy pipeline could strike Canada, says the head of the federal cyberprotection agency. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Attack that held U.S. pipeline hostage could happen in Canada: cyberprotection chief

Health-sector organizations are popular ransomware targets because they have significant financial resources

The sort of brazen digital attack that recently shut down a key U.S. energy pipeline could strike Canada, says the head of the federal cyberprotection agency.

“The fact is, it can happen anywhere,” said Scott Jones of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security. “I’d be lying if I said something other than that, but I’m not gonna lie.”

The operator of a major pipeline in the United States took its system offline this month after hackers infiltrated its computer systems. The company paid US$4.4 million to the criminals so it could quickly restore the vital fuel link.

In its most recent report on the threat landscape, the Centre for Cyber Security underscored concerns about ransomware attacks, in which swindlers hold data or computer systems hostage in exchange for payment.

It noted that three Ontario hospitals and a Canadian diagnostic and specialty testing company were victims of ransomware attacks in late 2019, as well as a medical company in Saskatchewan early last year.

Health-sector organizations are popular ransomware targets because they have significant financial resources and network downtime can have life-threatening consequences for patients, increasing the likelihood that victims will pay the ransom, said the centre’s report, released last November.

It predicted ransomware attacks directed against Canada would almost certainly continue to target large enterprises and critical infrastructure providers.

For Jones, taking steps to ward off these attacks is crucial.

“How do we prevent that compromise from reaching that level? How do we get to the information-sharing level we need to so that we catch it early?” he said.

“If we can make it more expensive and risky for the cybercriminals to go after an organization, they’ll move on to something else that’s less risky.”

Jones and John Lambert, vice-president of the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center, recently spoke to The Canadian Press about their collaborative efforts to ensure the security of Canadian government and private-sector agencies.

The Cyber Security Centre’s 2020 threat report said the state-sponsored programs of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea pose the greatest strategic danger to Canada. But it stressed the most likely threat would be the persistent efforts of criminals to steal personal, financial and corporate information.

Lambert expressed concern about criminal actions like the recent U.S. pipeline episode.

“While traditionally some of the most sophisticated threats that organizations have worried about might be linked to nation states, these incidents show that ransomware attacks are just as devastating, and potentially more so,” Lambert said.

Jones said one defensive tactic is to make it harder for the cybercriminals — taking away their opportunities by encouraging agencies and businesses to adopt robust security practices.

Moving data into the digital cloud, for instance, can be a viable option for small businesses that lack in-house information-technology expertise, he suggested.

The Trudeau government recently signalled it is pressing ahead with efforts to counter economic-based threats to national security, such as theft of valuable intellectual property and damage to critical energy and information networks.

Public Safety Canada said it would guide development of a comprehensive framework across the government to deal with the broad range of risks to Canada’s economic well-being.

No matter the type of electronic system to be defended, government, industry and academia must work together and exchange information, Jones said.

“And we need to be able to exchange it early. Not, ‘Oh, three months ago, I was hit and here’s what it looked like.’”

Rather, rapidly comparing notes can be pivotal, Jones said.

“When you look at the partnership we have with John’s team, we do that all the time: ‘We’re seeing something very strange. What are you seeing? How can we share?’”

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

cybersecurityPipelineUSA

Just Posted

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

From left: Councillor Lucy Taylor, Councillor Barry Banford, Councillor Bill Haring, Mayor Merlin Blackwell, Councillor Lynne Frizzle, Councillor Lyle Mckenzie and Councillor Shelley Sim. (District of Clearwater photo)
Intersections in Weyerhaeuser community could soon see some changes

A four-way stop and assessment are planned for two intersections in the community.

File photo
Encounter with suspicious man has Vavenby mother concerned

The man was driving a red car and asked her 11-year-old daughter for her address as she walked home.

Dr. Albert de Villiers, chief medical health officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
Child sex crimes charges against Interior’s top doc won’t impact pandemic response: Dix

Dr. Albert de Villiers is charged with sexual assault and sexual interference

Dr. Albert de Villiers, chief medical health officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
Interior Health top doctor released on bail after sex crimes charges involving child

Dr. Albert de Villiers was arrested on two Alberta charges in Kelowna on Tuesday

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

Most Read