Date: March 24, 2021
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
- The Government of Canada recognizes that more than ever, secure and reliable connectivity is a necessity for our daily lives and our collective safety and security, as it underpins the delivery of things such as health care, financial transactions, safe transportation, and emergency communications.
- Unfortunately, we have seen that malicious actors, such as cyber criminals and state actors, are attempting to take advantage of the new environment created by COVID-19 to exploit particular sectors such as health.
- The Government of Canada is continuously working to detect, deter, disrupt state actors, and other malicious actors.
- Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the Government of Canada has continued to engage with Provinces, Territories, Municipalities, and industry in order to protect Canada’s critical infrastructure and the systems that underpin essential services.
- The Government of Canada continues to share advice and guidance for organizations to increase cyber security and prevent compromises.
- For example, the Communications Security Establishment and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service issued a joint statement last year on the heightened cyber security threats to Canadian businesses, research entities, and different levels of government during the pandemic.
- The RCMP, through the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the National Cybercrime Coordination Unit, collects information on cybercrime, including online frauds and scams related to COVID-19, and shares that information with law enforcement agencies, private industry, and Canadians.
- The Government of Canada will continue to raise awareness on evolving cyber threats, and our security and intelligence agencies will work tirelessly to mitigate these threats to protect Canadians and Canadian interests.
Malicious cyber activity directed at the computer systems that underpin critical infrastructure are a constant concern for businesses, individuals, and governments in Canada. The current COVID-19 pandemic makes these concerns even more important, particularly as Canada continues its largescale vaccination program.
The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security’s (the Cyber Centre) National Cyber Threat Assessment 2020 highlighted that while while cybercrime is the most likely threat, the state-sponsored programs of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea pose the greatest strategic threats to Canada. State-sponsored cyber activity is generally the most sophisticated threat to Canadians and Canadian organizations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of establishing and maintaining effective cyber security practices. Adversaries, both criminal and state, are continuing to use the current situation to exploit, access, and/or extract information to further their agendas and objectives. This tactic is not new as similar galvanizing events, such as elections and terror attacks, have been exploited by malicious actors hoping to capitalize on a target’s susceptibility.
Many countries have noted that malicious actors, including cyber criminals and state actors, are capitalizing on the increased reliance on technology for social interaction and work by exploiting technical vulnerabilities and launching additional phishing campaigns and scams.
Targets of Concern
Malicious actors may be more likely to target the health and government sectors due to their increased vulnerability during the pandemic. On March 20, 2020, the Cyber Centre released a Cyber Alert entitled Cyber Threats to Canadian Health Organizations, emphasizing the elevated risk faced by the sector. Since the release of the Cyber Alert, Canada began its COVID-19 vaccination program, which provides another target for malicious cyber actors. An important component of the vaccination program is the ability to transport the vaccine across Canada efficiently.
Commonly, ransomware is used to target these sectors as there is an increased likelihood that affected organizations will pay the ransom to avoid lengthy shut downs of their critical systems and resultant impact on citizens. Cases of corporate fraud or intrusion may also become more common as employees continue to work from home, accessing corporate data from personal computers, without antivirus software, and on insecure home networks.
Government of Canada Response
Government of Canada organizations are managing this risk. Federal government interventions to protect their computer systems take many forms, including helping to inform potential victims of malicious cyber activity and helping computer security professionals adopt best practices to prevent and react to incidents in order to minimize the impact on essential operations. The federal government also continues to work with provincial and territorial governments, associations, academia and industry to advance cyber security policy that can be adapted to these issues.
Thousands of domains containing the keyword COVID-19 have been registered, and it is likely that many of these domains will be used for malicious purposes such as the distribution of malware or to facilitate on-line spoofing of health organizations and Government of Canada domains. The Cyber Centre is working with the private sector to remove fraudulent sites.
Additionally, the Government supported the Canadian Internet Registration Authority in the development of their Canadian Shield initiative, which was launched in late April. Canadian Shield is a free protected Domain Name Systems (DNS) service that prevents individuals from connecting to malicious websites that might infect their device, or steal their personal information.
In order to protect Canada’s critical infrastructure, the Cyber Centre has continued to engage with provinces, territories, municipalities, and industry since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. The Cyber Centre continues to share advice and guidance with organizations to increase cyber security and prevent successful compromises. Likewise, Public Safety’s Regional Resilience Assessment Program’s (RRAP) Cyber Assessments Team has various assessment tools to provide expert advice and guidance to critical infrastructure owners and operators on how to improve their cybersecurity and cyber resilience posture. This work has been performed in close collaboration with the Communications Security Establishment, which uses the reports to better understand sectorial gaps and optimally target programs and resources to mitigate cyber risks.
To combat the increase in scams/phishing, the Cyber Centre is working with other federal departments, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), to detect, deter and disrupt cyber incidents. Ransomware incidents are an area of increasing concern, and one in which co-ordination between Five Eyes partners is essential. The RCMP is investigating those responsible and enforcement/disruption action has been taken.
In addition, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) is tracking incidences of cybercrimes specifically linked to fraudulent COVID‐19 themed activities. Since March 2020, the CAFC has received over 10,000 reports of COVID-19 related cyber threats and frauds, which includes a reported $7.0M in total reported losses by victims. The reported cyber threats and scams take on forms, such as fake Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) applications, spoofed government, healthcare or research information, or unsolicited calls, phishing emails and texts requesting urgent action or payment and/or offering fraudulent medical advice and fake cures. The RCMP’s National Cybercrime Coordination Unit (NC3) has also received reports of COVID-19 related online misinformation and phishing activities that are used to spread malware and access victim computers. The CAFC and NC3 continue to collaborate with Canadian and international law enforcement partners, federal departments and the private sector to mitigate and disrupt threats.
As a result of the significant increase in the registration of fraudulent domain names (email addresses, website addresses) related to COVID-19, the NC3, through Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, participated in a law enforcement operation to identify and disrupt suspicious domains (e.g., websites, email addresses) linked to COVID-19 themed cyber threats and frauds. Between May and August 2020, the NC3 received over 4,700 domains through this operation with a nexus to Canada. The NC3 analyzes these domains and coordinates activities to take down domains that are assessed as criminal in nature. This involves close collaboration with the Cyber Cyber, the CAFC, the CRTC, Health Canada (Enforcement Branch), Canada Border Services Agency, Competition Bureau Canada and the private sector (e.g., domain name registration companies).
Additionally, the CRTC uses information submitted by Canadians to the Spam Reporting Centre to create a Consumer Advisory warning for Canadians to inform them about COVID-19 related scam calls, emails and text messages and how to report them.
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