“Cyberspace offers nation-states innumerable new possibilities for spying and surveillance around the world, without a big risk of reprisal,” says the Center on Multidimensional Conflicts at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) in one of the conclusions to its latest report.
This centre brings together international and Canadian researchers who study how foreign actors attempt to destabilise governments, weaken societies and institutions and undermine critical systems through cyberattacks, disinformation and political interference.
Their analysis covers the “geopolitical or strategic” cyber incidents of which Canada has been a victim since 2010, namely, events linked to “international rivalries and strategic competition”.
The centre has identified 75 such incidents targeting Canadian public authorities, the wider public, research institutions and companies, individuals and international organisations located in Canada. “Some targeted Canada specifically, while others were aimed at multiple countries including Canada,” the report says.
49 of the 75 were cyber espionage attacks targeting state secrets, intellectual property or individuals for surveillance. Around half of the espionage operations were economic or industrial spying, targeting “major companies, universities, and other R&D-dedicated entities, most noticeably involved in the information technology, energy, finance and aerospace industries,” according to the report.
The centre also identified 15 cases of information manipulation, 5 of digital reconnaissance (hacking into an IT system to map it and identify vulnerabilities),as well as 4 defacement and 4 doxing operations.
Most of these attacks came from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, without being systematically linked to the governments of these countries.