Canadian Security Magazine

Canadian cyberspy agency says it disrupted foreign extremist activity

The Canadian Press   

News communications security establishment

By Jim Bronskill in Ottawa

Canada’s cyberspy agency says it conducted operations in the last year to disrupt and remove harmful terrorist content spread online by foreign, ideologically motivated extremists.

In its latest annual report, the Communications Security Establishment says the operation fractured the extremists’ cohesion and significantly reduced their online reach and ability to recruit new members.

The report released Thursday provides no specifics about the extremists or their aims.


However, it says the federal defence minister authorized four foreign cyberoperations in 2022 — three intended to disrupt adversaries and one to protect systems from malicious activity.

The CSE was able to provide domestic and allied partners with unique intelligence on the networks, capabilities, motivations and intentions behind extremist activities in the last year, the report adds.

The Ottawa-based CSE monitors foreign communications for intelligence of interest to Canada, protects computer systems and engages in cyberoperations to counter threats from abroad.

The CSE says it has worked closely with domestic partners and international allies to support a unified global response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Over the last year, the CSE’s Cyber Centre has notified Ukraine about hostile activities against the country’s national infrastructure and vulnerabilities in its networks, with the aim of preventing damage.

This work is based on data shared proactively with CSE by the Ukrainian authorities, the report says.

On March 17, 2022, the defence minister signed two ministerial orders designating the electronic information and networks of Ukraine and nearby Latvia as systems of importance to the government of Canada, the annual report says.

It was the first time a minister had used these powers under the CSE Act to designate entities outside Canada.

“The designations allow CSE to provide cyber security assistance to help protect the designated entities,” the report says. “The orders are still in effect and CSE’s assistance is ongoing.”

The CSE has close intelligence-sharing relationships with the other Five Eyes countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The report says that in January 2023, the CSE resumed sharing metadata with Five Eyes partners after what it calls “an extensive, multi-year process to address privacy concerns.”

Metadata is information associated with a communication, such as a telephone number or email address, but not the message itself.

In 2016, the agency’s watchdog at the time said the CSE had broken federal privacy law by sharing information about Canadians, in the form of metadata, with foreign partners.

In collecting metadata, the CSE is required to take measures to protect the privacy of Canadians.

The watchdog said at the time that the spy service had discovered on its own that certain types of metadata containing Canadian identity information were not being properly “minimized” — stripped of potentially revealing details — before being shared with the CSE’s key foreign partners.

The CSE informed the watchdog, as well as the defence minister, about the matter. The spy agency then suspended the sharing of this metadata with its partners.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2023.

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