The Ukraine War is now entering into its 4th month and the savagery has not been limited to conventional warfare, as Russian cyberattacks have had a devastating effect on the Ukrainian economy and have also targeted the allies of the embattled nation.
Last month, a joint advisory from cybersecurity agencies in Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, warned entities across the globe of impending cyber dangers from Russia. It was thought at that time that attacks targeting the allies of Ukraine that have been responsible for levying catastrophic sanctions to Russia’s economy would materialize in earnest, and pockets of attacks have already been reported.
The advisory was also clear in stating that the dangers were not limited to those posed by state-sponsored Advanced Persistent Threat Groups (APTs), as several non-government affiliated cyber groups have “recently publicly pledged support for the Russian government,” and attacks may “occur as a response to the unprecedented economic costs imposed on Russia as well as material support provided by the United States and U.S. allies and partners.”
These facts have not been lost on Canada’s Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, as he recently lobbied the countries that form the so-called G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union) to establish a quick reaction group that would share their combined expertise in an effort to defend against Russian cyberattacks targeting crucial Canadian information-technology infrastructure.
In the past few months, attacks like the ones in Ukraine leveraging Hermetic Wiper Malware have wiped away all data on computers configured for Microsoft Windows. These kinds of attacks would be more than a nuisance should they expand beyond the immediate battlefield and target western nations, in particular, Canada and the U.S.
Champagne asked the meeting of G7 nations, “How can you do more together? What we proposed is a working group to increase our collective resilience.”
Earlier this month, Canada’s Security Intelligence Service warned that “Canada remains a target for malicious cyber-enabled espionage, sabotage, foreign influence, and terrorism-related activities which pose significant threats to Canada’s national security, its interests and its economic stability,” and that “cyber actors conduct malicious activities” for political, economic, military and security reasons against government and private-sector computer systems.
In the aftermath of these developments, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally set forth a crucial ban of Chinese technology companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE from Canada’s 5G networks in a move that was welcomed by the U.S. State Department.
Canada is now the last member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which includes the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, to impose a 5G ban. Speaking at the Alouette aluminum plant in Sept-Iles, Que., last week, Trudeau said, “We took the time to carefully analyze the situation, look at all sorts of factors, to look very closely at what our allies and partners were doing around the world in regards to telecommunications safety.”
The significance of this move cannot be understated, as just prior to the commencement of military action against Ukraine by Russia, a new cooperative alliance was struck between Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.
This new Sino-Russian alliance poses a major danger, not just to countries like Ukraine and Taiwan, but to most of the rest of the world, as the two nations have conducted about a decade’s worth of reconnaissance hacking.
For example, in 2018, hackers from China were able to penetrate a U.S. Navy contractor working with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island. This attack occurred a few years after NBC published an NSA map that revealed “more than 600 corporate, private or government ‘Victims of Chinese Cyber Espionage’ attacked over a five-year period, with clusters in America’s industrial centres.”
And who can forget what is possibly the most wide-ranging example of reconnaissance hacking the world has ever seen, the Russian-based SolarWinds hack, that affected tens of thousands of entities in both the private and public sectors globally.
There is no doubt that China and Russia pose the greatest cyber threat to the West and both Canadians and Americans. This is evidenced by major supply chains attacks like the Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods attacks of 2021. Now, with 2022 poised to be the most devastating year of cyberattacks in history, it is relieving to see that the Canadian government seems to be getting it right on the key issues of the technological age.
Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist.