Ottawa about to join cyber threat exchange

The private sector is about to get access to some of the federal government’s cyber expertise, including discoveries of its electronic spy agency, under an agreement which may be signed within weeks.

The department of Public Safety, which runs the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre (CCIRC), the national cyber emergency operations centre and supplies a variety of threat reports; and the Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE), which is responsible for securing federal systems, are finalizing details of a pact which will see those two bodies share information with the Canadian Cyber Threat Exchange (CCTX).

The not for profit exchange, which has been fully operational since the end of February, has so far acted as a clearing house for two dozen large enterprises including banks and telcos. But the addition of federal threat data is expected to make the CCTX more appealing to large businesses.

What’s been holding up approval from both sides is time: According to CCTX executive director Robert Gordon, an important meeting was scheduled for  Tuesday afternoon but had to be rescheduled.

Still, he’s hopeful an arrangement will be inked and data will be flowing by the end of the month.

“It’s now just a matter of for us to get together to finish it off, and that’s just a scheduling issue. It’s not a challenge issue.”

Ottawa will contribute indicators of compromise it has discovered through data sharing protocols such as Structured Threat Information eXpression (STIX) and Trusted Automated eXchange of Indicator Information (TAXI), which can be pulled into subscriber information and event management systems.

What it won’t be sharing, Gordon said, are discoveries of vulnerabilities in commercial software. Those will be reported to vendors.

When the CCTX was created last year federal data participation was always envisioned. For the past several months the exchange and the government have been “doing the technical piece to successfully move their data over to us to make sure the systems are compatible,” Gordon said. There were no obstacles, but the fledgling CCTX systems had to be mature enough, he added. “It was more just going through the regular testing to make sure systems are talking back and forth.”

Threat information sharing is considered vital by experts if organizations and governments are to be able to make headway in their fight against criminal and nation state cyber attackers. In the U.S. it is common for industries to band together in sector information sharing centres called ISACs. They are’t common in Canada, although the country’s Tier 1 banks have been working closely on cyber security for some time. Canada also has more small and mid-sized companies than the U.S., with small IT staff.

The CCTX was created to fill the void. Officially launched in December, 2016 but fully operational only at the end of February, it offers not only a data exchange but also secure forums where infosec pros can share experiences and knowledge.

A number of big names are behind the exchange. Its chair is Marc Duchesne vice-president of corporate security and responsibility at Bell Canada, and vice-chair is Colin Penny, senior vice-president of technology and CIO of Ontario utility Hydro One Networks Inc. Other board members are from Air Canada, CN, Telus, Royal Bank, Manulife Insurance, TD Bank and utility TransCanada Corp.

The goal is to spread actionable intelligence. “For example, when the (NotPetya) attacks were coming out of Europe a month ago we put out a situation report in the morning, followed up in the middle of the day with a conference call with members,” said Gordon, “and then we came up with an update later on. So it’s an opportunity for companies to get together not just for the data but its also for cyber analysts to exchange ideas, problems, solutions with their counterparts very quickly.”

The advantage of having federal participation is not just broadening the number of data sources in the exchange, Gordon said, it also should help convince more enterprises to join. And, at this point in its gestation, he admitted, it wants large enterprises — which pay more in annual subscriptions — than small businesses. Still, he said, the exchange has lowered its fee for universities (considered medium-sized organizations) to get contributions from security researchers there.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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