Canada confirms major cyber attack

Suspected Chinese hacking into financial data “significant” but did not compromise federal budget, official says.

''Significant'' cyber attack on Canada linked to China
Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab reports on what Canadian officials are calling ‘significant’ cyber attacks

A “significant” cyber attack on two Canadian economic ministries, reportedly from China, that targeted financial records, did not compromise the 2011 federal budget, according to a senior cabinet minister.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp said hackers using China-based servers last month had broken into computer systems at the finance department and treasury board.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the most aggressive [attack] but it was a significant one, significant that they were going after financial records. We were able to shut things down and protect information,” Stockwell Day, the treasury board minister, said on Thursday.

“It slows down your internal operations for a while because we had to immediately shut down certain parts of the network … but those are all in the process of being reopened. The budget’s on track and it’s going to be a good budget.”

CBC said the hackers had also gained access to an agency that advises the armed forces on science and technology.

In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman denied there was a Chinese link to the hacking.

Possible target

David Skillicorn, a professor of computing at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, said one target might have been data about Canada’s booming commodities industry.

“If we guess it was the Chinese with some economic motivation, then presumably they’re interested in some decision the government might be making on taxes or budgets that will impact contracting with some Canadian mining company, or something like that,” Skillicorn told the Reuters news agency.

Experts have warned for years that Canada’s cyber protection is not good enough [GALLO/GETTY]

“There are lots of things the Chinese are interested in but that certainly – in the Canadian context – jumps out as the big one at the moment.”

Canada’s spy service complains regularly about what it says is industrial espionage by China and other states.

The Bank of Canada said it had found no evidence that it had been compromised.

Canada’s parliamentary watchdog, auditor-general Sheila Fraser, has warned for years that the government’s cyber protection is not good enough.

“The best you can do is improve your layers of protection and the trouble is whenever this issue comes up, convenience trumps security every time. So people want to be able to work from their BlackBerries and work from home and they put holes in their systems,” Skillicorn said.

Canada’s minority Conservative government has markedly toned down its criticism of China’s human-rights record while trying to increase bilateral trade.

Last year, Canadian researchers said a cyber-espionage group in southwestern China had stolen documents from the Indian defence ministry and e-mails from the office of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

The year before, the same researchers described a systematic cyber-infiltration of the Tibetan government-in-exile, which they dubbed GhostNet.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies