Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Vladimir Putin’s War in Ukraine has now entered into its 4th month and the fighting has not been limited to conventional warfare, as Russian-based cyber-attacks have devastated the Ukrainian economy while targeting the allies of the embattled nation.
One month ago, a joint advisory from cyber agencies in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, warned organizations across the globe of the growing cyber dangers from Russia. At that time, it was thought that attacks targeting allies of Ukraine that have brought sanctions against Russia’s economy would materialize, and waves of attacks have already been reported.
The advisory also stated that the dangers were not limited to potential attacks from state-sponsored Advanced Persistent Threat Groups (APTs), as several non-government cyber groups have “recently publicly pledged support for the Russian government,” and reports state that 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 were top of mind for Canada’s Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne recently, as he lobbied the nations that form the so-called G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union) to immediately establish a quick reaction group that could share their combined knowledge to defend against Russian cyber-attacks that may target crucial Canadian information-technology infrastructure.
Since the war began, attacks like the ones in Ukraine using Hermetic Wiper Malware have wiped away data on systems configured for Microsoft Windows. These attacks would be more than a nuisance if they expanded beyond the immediate battlefield and targeted western nations, in particular, Canada and the US.
Minister Champagne asked the G7 nations, “How can you do more together? What we proposed is a working group to increase our collective resilience.”
In May, Canada’s Security Intelligence Service issued a warning 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 “cyber actors conduct malicious activities” for military, political, economic, and security reasons against government and private-sector computers.
In the aftermath of this, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has finally decided to institute a crucial ban of Chinese technology companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE from Canadian 5G networks, a move that was welcomed by the US State Department. Canada is the last member of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which includes the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, to impose a 5G ban against Chinese entities.
This move is significant, especially because just prior to the commencement of military action in Ukraine, a cooperative alliance was struck between Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.
The Sino-Russian alliance poses major dangers, not just to countries like Ukraine and Taiwan, but to the rest of the world, as the two nations have conducted at least a decade’s worth of reconnaissance hacking.
In 2018, China-based hackers were able to infiltrate a US Navy contractor working at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island. The attack occurred a few years after NBC News published a secret NSA map revealing “more than 600 corporate, private or government ‘Victims of Chinese Cyber Espionage’ attacked over a five-year period, with clusters in America’s industrial centers.”
While Russian-based hackers conducted what is possibly the most wide-ranging example of reconnaissance hacking ever, the SolarWinds hack, that affected tens of thousands of organizations in both the private and public sectors globally.
It is obvious that China and Russia pose the greatest cyber threat to the West. Just look at major supply chains attacks like the Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods attacks of 2021. With 2022 poised to be a devastating year for cyberattacks, it does provide some relief to see Canada’s government starting to get it right on many of the key issues of the digital age.
Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by numerous websites and he is regularly seen on National and International news programming.
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