Politics
Harper not saying what he's doing about possible Chinese hackers

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Credits: REUTERS

DANIEL PROUSSALIDIS | QMI AGENCY

OTTAWA - Despite recent reports that the Chinese military is hacking Canadian computer systems, Prime Minister Stephen won't say whether he'll raise the issue with the Chinese government.

"We are certainly aware of these kinds of security threats and risks that exist," said Harper while in Saskatoon. "We have professionals who constantly evaluate them and work with partners on addressing them, but beyond that, as I think you know, I never comment publicly on the specifics of national security matters."

Harper's answer is similar to what the Liberal government said in 2005, when he asked whether the Grits had raised espionage concerns with Beijing following reports of thousands of Chinese spies in Canada.

"It is also well known that Canada maintains a vigorous counter-intelligence program to safeguard Canada's security," said Paul Martin as prime minister. "It is also very clear, and Canadians can rest assured, that we maintain a very strong law enforcement and security system that will enable them to be assured of their own protection and security."

A report by American security firm Mandiant this week accused a Chinese government branch of suspected cyber-spies of stealing hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organizations in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S.

The hacked Canadian computers are said to include systems that regulate critical infrastructure, including oil pipelines.

John Adams, who used to head cyber-security agency Communications Security Establishment Canada, says critical infrastructure is Canada's weakest point.

But Adams notes that doesn't mean a hostile party could easily control a hacked system.

"People think it's as simple as getting into the Internet and you can control eastern seaboard electrical distribution," he said. "It's not that simple. It's much more complex than that and there's always human oversight."

Adams appeared with Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, at a cyber-security panel at the Ottawa Conference on Defence and Security on Thursday.

Alexander says part of the solution is to develop systems to alert government authorities while a hacker is trying to gain access to a particular system.

"If somebody doesn't tell us an attack is going on, we won't see it," Alexander told the conference. "And if you don't see it at network speed, you can't stop it."

Beyond infrastructure, Adams says hackers steal $4 trillion worth of intellectual property annually worldwide.

"Cyber crime is a runaway freight train," he said, noting that malicious sites in Canada almost tripled last year.

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