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Illustration by Security Management

Canadian Intelligence Director Brands China a Threat

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) labeled China a serious danger to Canada's national security and economy.

In a speech to a virtual event hosted by the Centre for International Governance Innovation on Tuesday, CSIS Director David Vigneault said that China is trying to steal valuable business secrets and classified data, as well as attempting to coerce the Chinese community residing in Canada.

Vigneault explained that certain sectors are at higher risk from state-sponsored hackers, including biopharmaceutical, health, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, ocean technology, and aerospace. These industries have an increased risk of exposure because of their significant connections with both academia and small start-ups, which are attractive targets that can be exploited by other countries.

“Historically, spies were focused on obtaining Canadian political, military and diplomatic secrets,” Vigneault said. But recently intellectual property and advanced research housed by businesses and universities have become a target for such adversaries.

He added that China’s Operation Fox Hunt—which Beijing has described as an effort to locate corrupt officials and executives who fled the country with their assets—has been used to regularly intimidate political dissidents residing in Canada.

“Those threatened often lack the resources to defend themselves and are unaware that they can report these activities to Canadian authorities, including the CSIS,” Vigneault said.

He noted that foreign governments have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to conduct data theft, ransomware attacks, spread disinformation related to the pandemic response, and more.

Vigneault also called for changes to Canada’s CSIS Act, which was enacted in 1984 and "better suited for the threats of the Cold War era," according to The Toronto Star

“We need laws that enable these types of data-driven investigations, carefully constructed to reflect the values we share in our democracy, including assurances of robust privacy protections,” Vigneault said.

According to Reuters, the Communications Security Establishment signals intelligence agency named state-sponsored programs in China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea as major cybercrime threats for the first time in November 2020.

Vigneault’s speech marked the second time in recent months that Canada spotlighted China as a strategic threat, specifically for economic, technological, political, and military activities. He also named Russia as another significant source of concern.

Australia and the United States have also accused China of actively targeting research and sensitive data from their respective businesses and universities.