Copeland: How should Canada deal with the threat posed by cyberattacks from abroad?

By: /
19 October, 2012
By: Daryl Copeland

Former diplomat; research fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Among the ever growing number of transnational  challenges which constitute the “globalization threat set,” cyber-security is among the most complex and vexing. Three difficulties in particular stand out.

For starters, there is somewhat of a disconnect between the analysts in government who write security policy, and those with the highly specialized expertise required to remedially address the cyber threat.  These groups tend to speak what amount to different languages, and inhabit different worlds which rarely intersect.

Secondly, decision-makers, whose personal background and professional experience were in all probability shaped by the Cold War, are often late adapters to the digital world. The generation gap here carries significant implications in terms of orientation, understanding, and mind-set.  It can make for real difficulties when it comes to effective policy development and public administration.

Finally, defending against this unconventional threat is difficult in the extreme. As illustrated by the massive Wikileaks “Cablegate” cyber security breach – effectively a Napster moment for government – as well as the escapades of shadowy hacktivist groups such as Anonymous, airtight protection is likely impossible.

That said, additional resources, best efforts on the technological side, new partnerships with civil society (Citizen Lab at U of T comes immediately to mind), and a focus on intelligence gathering and sharing are surely warranted.  

Bottom line? Given the vulnerability to disruption associated with our highly centralized  systems – telecommunications, energy, electrical power –  more attention to the management of cyber security issues is certainly welcome.

Beyond that, it is very much a brave, and in important respects unsettling new world.

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