#CyberFLASH: How much do we really know about the Canadian intelligence community?

csis.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxLast year American whistle-blower Edward Snowden proclaimed that Canadian intelligence agencies have the “weakest oversight” in the Western world and compared the Canadian government’s Bill C-51 to George W. Bush’s post-9-11 U.S. Patriot Act.

Canada became a surveillance state under the Stephen Harper Conservatives. In 2014, for example, it came to light that the Government Operations Centre was monitoring residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, including Indigenous Peoples, residents of the Island’s west coast who opposed fracking, and fishermen who were protesting shrimp quotas. This ongoing problem is further complicated by multiple transnational intelligence sharing agreements, in place since World War II, that remain largely unknown to the general public.

Indeed, the rise of the surveillance state is a global phenomenon that cannot be separated from the rise of the internet. But in Canada, because of the lack of any credible oversight, it has played out in a very specific way. This has everything to do with what the Canadian public knows—and more importantly, does not know—about Canadian intelligence agencies.

Canada’s new and highly invasive so-called anti-terror legislation came into force last year with the support of then-Opposition Leader Justin Trudeau and the Liberal caucus. The Trudeau Liberals knew that in order to win the election they would need to undo—or at least promise to undo—much of the damage done by their predecessors. They would have to address the alienation felt by Canadians from having a government that used national security as an excuse to trade away its citizens’ freedom and civil liberties.

Unfortunately, they have yet to repeal or even reform Bill C-51, and recent terrorist attacks in Europe, the U.S, and here at home in Canada have provided the perfect backdrop against which to further delay the process. On August 10, for example Aaron Driver, a 24-year-old Canadian citizen who was allegedly plotting a terrorist attack in the southern Ontario town of Strathroy, died in a confrontation with police who were following up on a tip from the FBI.

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#CyberFLASH: Toward the quantum Internet

2016-01-07-Helmy-sizedAfter terror attacks last year in Europe and Africa, speculation swirled that the plotters may have been using smartphone apps to encrypt their communications.

Now, Professor Amr Helmy of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering is leading research that could break open such encryption while ensuring the security, privacy and confidentiality of legitimate communications.

Helmy’s work is supported by a Connaught Global Challenge Award. The award, funded by U of T’s Connaught Fund, was established in 2011 to support interdisciplinary approaches to problems of global significance. Proposals come from the U of T research community, involve large teams from multiple disciplines and are subjected to the highest level of international peer review.

As more people and businesses move crucial operations online, digital security has become a challenge of global significance. Modern encryption ciphers can only be broken with powerful computers, much faster than those commercially available today. Quantum computing and quantum cryptography harness the physical laws of quantum mechanics to provide both speed and security improvements many orders of magnitude better than today’s state-of-the-art.

“A technological platform that provides a significant leap forward is sorely needed,” says Helmy. “My personal vision is for a quantum Internet that can go farther beyond quantum-based security – that can afford distributed quantum information processing, where quantum computers are connected by quantum communications.”

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#CyberFLASH: Social media powerful tool for terrorists, expert warns

the-radical-reality-canada-and-homegrown-terrorismPublic Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Thursday he “looks forward” to talking to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, after Paulson this week warned that online privacy laws are seriously obstructing the fight against runaway cyber crime.

“He and I have not had the chance to have this conversation yet and I’m looking forward to hearing the elaboration of his views,” Goodale said Thursday. “This issue has presented difficulties in the past, some very high-profile ones.”

Goodale, who is politically responsible for the Mounties, made the remark after spending nearly two hours sitting in the audience at a panel discussion on counter-terrorism at a Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries conference in Ottawa.

A day earlier, in an address to the same gathering, Paulson said rocketing Internet crime, combined with laws restricting police online criminal investigations, means people should avoid the Internet or use it knowing the potential risks.

“And if something bad happens, hopefully we’ll be able to help you, but there’s no guarantee,” he said.

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#CyberFLASH: Digitized2015 draws hundreds of technological teens

large_cybersecHundreds of teenagers packed into a university lecture hall Thursday to learn about hacking terrorists, spies and thieves.

Keynote speaker Justin Seitz’s cyber security talk kicked off Digitized 2015, a technology conference for students held at the University of Saskatchewan.

“How do I get started in all of this? I think that is the big question for a lot of them,” Seitz explained. “Although you’re going to learn a lot of the background information in computer science, at the U of S for example, a lot of it is self-taught. So, really, you can begin that journey right now.”

Grade 10 student, Jaidyn Guenther from Hepburn, Sask., is one of the teens who got started early.

“I wanted to come here because I am really interested in computers and I have been taking some other courses and my teacher suggested that I come check this out,” Guenther explained.

Guenther, along with 375 other high school students from Saskatoon and surrounding area are all interested in careers in technology.

In fact, according to the university’s Department of Computer Science and the Saskatoon Industry-Education Council, the conference hosts, more students are enrolling in computer science programs every year.

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#CyberFLASH: Steven Blaney defends new anti-terrorism powers

Steven BlaneyCanada’s public safety minister defended new counter-terrorism legislation Tuesday, saying there were “robust” safeguards in place to ensure that proposed new powers for the federal spy agency don’t infringe on civil rights.

Steven Blaney told a security conference that legislation was needed to protect Canadians and their civil rights from the “explosive cocktail” created when those with mental health issues become indoctrinated into an extremist ideology, pointing to the Oct. 22 shootings in Ottawa as an example.

“If we want civil rights to flourish in the country, we need to have security,” Blaney said.

Blaney made the comments on the same day the House of Commons kicked off debate on the government’s new counter-terrorism bill. Opposition parties expressed cautious support for a series of amendments to give Canada’s spy agency more powers.

The government’s new bill to bolster the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act would give the agency greater surveillance powers, and enshrine in law the ability of CSIS to operate at home and overseas while also making it easier to share intelligence with allies. The bill, known as C-44, would also grant anonymity to CSIS witnesses in court cases, even keeping their identity secret from the judge involved.

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Terrorism monitor closely watched Occupy protests

Canada’s terrorism assessment centre kept close watch on Occupy protests throughout the country last year, monitoring potential economic disruption and support from hacker group Anonymous.

Critics say it’s disturbing that the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC), which is tasked with monitoring domestic and international terrorist threats, kept tabs on peaceful protests.

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