Most Canadians are familiar with cyber attacks in the form of pesky spyware or email scams. As Internet users, we've come to accept that these small nuisances are a normal part of twenty-first century life.
But is it possible for cyber attacks to damage more than just our email inboxes and hard drives? That’s the question being addressed in a new initiative by the Canadian federal government. Last week, Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced that the government is investing $20 million in sci-tech research that will help prevent cyber attacks on a national scale.
In the past, governmental agencies have expressed concern about vulnerabilities in key areas of infrastructure, like hospitals and power plants. Thanks to the new initiative, 26 different projects aimed at expanding Canada’s repertoire of high-tech defences will receive a substantial monetary boost.
The announcement underlines the importance of sci-tech research to national security.
"These projects bring together the best minds from government, industry and academia, nationally and internationally, to support the development of knowledge, tools, processes, advice and strategies that are essential for safeguarding Canada," said Minister McKay in a statement.
Among the agencies affected by the investment are Environment Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency. Many of the scheduled projects focus on improving communication tools and Canada’s digital infrastructure. By cutting off conventional routes used by cyber attackers, say experts, security risks can be greatly reduced.
Currently, Communications Research Centre Canada is looking into tools that will help “[locate] low-cost, low-power devices used to disrupt/block services like GPS and cell phones.” According to a press release, the London Police Service is also helping to mitigate security risks by exploring new tools for emergency dispatch services.
The investment reflects the state of cyber safety in Canada today. According to Norton's Cybercrime 2012 report, it's estimated that almost three quarters of Canadian adults have experienced cybercrime during their lives.
Many Canadians may not be aware that the government does have an official Cyber Security Strategy in place. But that doesn't make the threat of high-tech crime any less real.
“Our systems are an attractive target for foreign military and intelligence services, criminals and terrorist networks,” says Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on the department website. “These groups are breaking into our computer systems, searching through our files, and causing our systems to crash. They are stealing our industrial and national security secrets, and our personal identities.”
Last month, defence expert Scott Knight wrote in the National Post that the likelihood of cyber attacks will increase as we become more reliant on technology in our daily lives. “Now is the time to begin to prepare for this new era,” he advised.
If there's one thing that's clear from recent news, it's that cyber safety requires the cooperation of many different agencies that are committed to protecting the privacy of Canadians.