Centre for International and Defence Policy

Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

Norad asked Canada to 'identify and mitigate' cyber threats to critical civilian sites 

Murray Brewster, CBC News,
9 September, 2019 (read the complete article)

Defining critical infrastructure is a complex and evolving task.

Cyber experts say the request highlights enduring concerns about power and water plants.

The U.S.-led North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) asked the Canadian military to do an inventory of its bases and the surrounding civilian infrastructure, looking for critical systems vulnerable to a cyberattack.

The letter to Canada's chief of the defence staff, written by then-Norad commander U.S. Admiral William Gourtney just over three years ago, was obtained by CBC News under access to information legislation.

Despite the passage of time, two leading cyber experts said the request highlights an enduring concern of both defence planners and people in high-tech industries.

The notion that a cyberattack could shut down civilian infrastructure — such as power grids, water treatment plants or traffic systems — in the vicinity of a military base is nothing new.

What is unusual is that Norad sought reassurance, at the highest levels of the military, that Canada was on top of the evolving threat.

Christian Leuprecht, a defence expert at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., said defining critical infrastructure is a complex and evolving task.

He pointed to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election; prior to that event, he said, the definition of critical infrastructure was limited to power plants, electricity grids and even the financial system.

"A lot of things people are wrestling with the question of what institutions — take, for example, democratic institutions — become critical infrastructure," said Leuprecht.

The Ukrainian attacks, in the view of many defence experts, are a blueprint of what the opening shots of a future war would look like.

"There's a considerable and growing awareness that our defence and critical infrastructure systems are closely tied together because countries, such as China, preserve cyberattack as a first-strike option," Leuprecht said.

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