Canada can expect election meddling, but not on scale seen in U.S., spies warn

The Communications Security Establishment released an assessment on the upcoming federal election

A voter casts a ballot in the 2011 federal election in Toronto on May 2, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Canadian voters will very likely experience some kind of online foreign interference related to the coming federal election, a new report from the national cyberspy agency warns.

But the agency says the meddling is unlikely to be on the scale of Russian interference against the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

READ MORE: Ottawa moves to clamp down on potential meddling in next federal election

In an assessment released on Monday, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment says that last year half of all advanced democracies holding national elections were targeted by cyberthreat activity.

It’s a threefold increase since 2015, and the Ottawa-based CSE expects the upward trend to continue this year.

The report suggests Canada can expect foreign adversaries to try to sway voters by focusing on polarizing social and political issues, promoting the popularity of one party over another, or trying to shape the public statements and policy choices of a candidate.

Malign actors also use cybertools to target the websites, email, social-media accounts, networks and devices of political parties, candidates and their staff, the report adds.

The CSE’s assessment, an update of a pathbreaking effort two years ago, is being presented at a news conference this morning by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould.

It comes just six months before Canadians head to the ballot box in a federal election.

Electoral processes around the world have been targeted by cyberthreat activity in recent years, the CSE says.

“However, as we noted in 2017, Canada’s federal elections are largely paper-based and Elections Canada has a number of legal, procedural and information technology (IT) measures in place that provide very robust protections against attempts to covertly change the official vote count.”

It is likely, however, that adversaries will try to deface websites or steal personal information that could be used to send out incorrect information to Canadians, causing some kind of disruption to the election process, the report says.

The aim of such activity would be to “sow doubt among voters,” making them question the election’s legitimacy or discouraging them from even taking part.

Nefarious actors hijack Twitter accounts or open new ones that tweet about popular subjects like sports or entertainment to gain followers, the CSE notes. “However, these accounts then switch to political messaging with Canadian themes following international events involving Canada.”

The report cites a 2016 episode in which false information appeared online about a “failed Canadian raid” against Russian separatist positions in Ukraine, alleging that 11 Canadian military personnel were killed. People shared an English-language version of the item over 3,000 times on Facebook.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bradshaw’s Photo Highlight: North Island beauty

“don’t forget to look up and observe the beauty of the whole North Island”

LETTER: Miles put on the car causes North Island driver to reflect

“Up here in Port McNeill we are so blessed with nature’s tranquillity all around us”

Collaborative effort removes salmon farms from BC coast

The first farms to be removed were those in closest to the Ahta and Viner Rivers.

North Island Concert Society: Marc Atkinson Trio coming to the Civic Centre

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 18 at the Port Hardy Civic Centre.

MP Blaney welcomes feedback on medical assistance in dying legislation

Over the next two weeks the Government of Canada is holding consultations… Continue reading

After cashing in on QB gambles, Chiefs and 49ers to clash in Super Bowl

KC beats Tennessee, San Francisco dispatches Green Bay to reach NFL title game

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

Victoria family focuses on ‘letting go, enjoying time together’ after dad gets dementia

Walter Strauss has developed an interest in music and now takes line dancing classes

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

Northern B.C. RCMP investigating alleged sexual assault in downtown Smithers

One person was transported by ambulance to hospital following RCMP investigation at Sedaz

UBC, Iranian-Canadian community create memorial scholarship in honour of victims

The Jan. 8 crash killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians

Disrespectful that Horgan won’t meet during northern B.C. tour: hereditary chief

Na’moks said he was frustrated Horgan didn’t meet with the chiefs

Most Read