Canada should be prepared for “unprecedented” levels of cyber risk, warns ex-CSIS official

If you think that $500 billion in worldwide cyber crime is a problem now, brace yourself. It’s about to get even more intense, said speakers Tuesday at a panel discussion at the Tech Day on Parliament Hill, organized by TechConnex and Northof41.

“I’ve never seen it at this velocity and level of complexity in my 30 years in security,” said Ray Boisvert, the president and CEO of I-Sec Integrated Strategies and a senior associate at communications firm Hill & Knowlton Strategies.

Boisvert should know. He’s also the former assistant director for intelligence at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). He noted that technology trends are a contributing factor in the escalating level of cyber threats. The proliferation of devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtualization and the growth in data are overwhelming our defences, he said. As well, there are increasing opportunities for email cyber fraud based on information collected from social media.

Cyber Crime — By the Numbers

Boisvert presented a current snapshot of the impact of cyber crime. He said that 600 million people have been affected, often through the theft of personal identity or a blackmail computer lockdown scheme. “It’s a traumatic event that you never want to go through,” he said.

For businesses, 74 per cent have been compromised by cyber events. The health care sector is heavily targeted, Boisvert said, with 81 cent of its executives admitting to a network breach.

The tech industry should pay attention to the fact that 90 per cent of executives say they can’t read a cyber security report, he added. This needs to be addressed given that it can take an average of $1 million and five days to recover from a cyber event.

At its root, Boisvert said, “the advantage is in the hands of the attacker.” Insider facilitation is a big problem, sometimes deliberate, but also by the unwitting employee who clicks on a suspicious link. However, the most significant threats are by organized crime groups.  “It’s a low-risk, high-yield approach.  The Internet has been bountiful for them,” he said.

Playbook Priorities

Prevention is the first priority to combat cyber threats, said Boisvert, given that about 80 per cent of malware is low level and can be prevented from entering your network. It’s also important to focus on early detection because the average dwell time is over 200 days, a long time for someone to be sitting on your network, he warned.

Panel members outlined three priority areas.

The skills shortage is an important issue, said Tyson Macaulay, chief security strategist and vice president of security Services at Fortinet. He pointed to the recent attacks reported by the global bank transfer co-operative, SWIFT, where hackers targeted banks in countries with acute skills shortages. Automated solutions could help fill that void, he noted.

We need to use data analytics to identify serious threats inside a network, said Patrick Patterson, President and CEO of Carillon Information Security. “If you look back at well known hacks,” he said, “People were drowning in alerts.  The question is to determine what’s important.” Analytics can be used, in real time, to sort through massive amounts of data to identify abnormal behaviour in the network.

Raising the bar in the use of credentials has to be a priority, said Grant Woodward, Public Safety and Defence Specialist at SAS.  “We can make social engineering harder by eliminating the use of usernames and passwords in Canada,” he said.  Woodward suggested other approaches should be adopted, such as two-factor authentication, the U.S. standard (FIPS 201), and attribute-based access controls.

The Role of Government

The federal government has been responding in a coordinated way, according to Erin O’Toole, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Durham. But, he stressed that “vital partnerships” will be a critical area for the new government. “For Canadians, there is more impact on our lives if there are disruptions in our financial services or critical infrastructure,” O’Toole said.

The government also needs to examine recent regulatory changes in Europe and the U.S., said Patterson. Canada needs to ensure that it is keeping pace so that businesses are not put in a disadvantaged position.

While the rapid growth in cyber attacks is a serious threat, the panelists also noted that there are significant business opportunities for innovative approaches to deal with the problem. “All of us would agree that it will affect our future prosperity as a nation,” said Boisvert.

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Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker has over 20 years of experience in IT-related fields in the public and private sectors, as a lawyer and strategic advisor. She is a former broadcast journalist, currently working as a consultant, freelance writer and editor.

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