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

District of Lantzville Mayor Mark Swain, left, and Snaw-Naw-As Chief Gordon Edwards sign a memorandum of understanding outside Snaw-Naw-As Market on Friday, June 18. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Lantzville and Snaw-Naw-As sign memorandum of understanding

District and First Nation create joint working group

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Tilray announces new line of products offering more inexpensive choices for medical cannabis users. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo-based Tilray launches new medical cannabis product line

Symbios brand products offered at ‘better price point’ for medical cannabis products

Freighters have becomd abundant in the Trincomali Channel on the east side of Thetis Island.
Nanaimo ponders taking on waste from nearby anchored freighters

Vancouver-based Tymac petitioning the Regional District of Nanaimo to accept waste at its landfill

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Janice Coady, left, Aimee Chalifoux and Linda Milford at a vigil for Amy Watts on Wednesday, June 16, outside Nanaimo city hall. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
‘We need to do better,’ says mother of woman killed in Nanaimo

Vigil held for former outreach worker Amy Watts, whose body was found downtown June 3

The B.C. Ministry of Education has announced close to $44 million for the province’s schools for COVID-19 recovery. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school stakeholders say COVID-19 recovery funding can make a difference

B.C. Ministry of Education announces it expects a ‘near-normal’ return to class in September

Regional District of Nanaimo is looking to repair sewage pipe in the Hammond Bay Road area, which was corroded by gas. (Black Press file)
Corroded sewer pipe along Nanaimo’s Hammond Bay Road will cost $5.5 million to fix

Pipe replacement and reinforcement part of $6.9-million infrastructure project

(V.I. Trail/Google Maps)
Now 90% complete, Vancouver Island trail forges new funding parnership

Victoria Foundation takes on Vancouver Island Trail Association; fund valued at $40,000

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)
WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in South Island parkland

These birds don’t often touch down on their way between northern B.C. and Mexico

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Most Read