Canada, a second-tier player in cybersecurity, looks to top-tier player …

Canada, a second-tier player in cybersecurity, looks to top-tier player Israel for advice on digital strategy

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OTTAWA – The federal government sought advice and assistance last fall from the Israeli government to toughen Canada’s cybersecurity defences and to find ways Ottawa could encourage private sector investments in cybersecurity, the National Post has learned.

Documents obtained by the Post detail a series of meetings last September between the top members of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate, a unit inside the the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, and senior federal government officials, including Daniel Jean, who is the national security advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It indicates that the government has understood that Canada has some catch-up to do,” said Christian Leuprecht, who holds cross-appointments as a political science professor at Queen’s University and Royal Military College. He is also one of the research project leaders for the Smart Cybersecurity Network, a project funded in part by the federal government. “Israel is among the most successful in terms of economies that have figured out innovation hubs and clusters. Israel is really a world leader.”

Indeed, other documents obtained by the National Post through federal access-to-information law show that Canada’s economic development officials admire and wish to emulate Israel’s significant private sector presence in the areas of cybersecurity and software development.

“The basic premise is this: It’s important to have a really robust cybersecurity infrastructure these days in a modern advanced economy,” Leuprecht said. “You’re not going to be competitive if any (intellectual property) that people develop is subject to getting stolen by third parties, be they other industrial players or or competing governments. An economic development strategy goes hand-in-hand with a robust cybersecurity strategy.”

The key group of meetings between Canadian and Israeli officials  took place in Ottawa on September 8. They were hosted by Public Safety Canada and while no politicians or political staff appeared to have been involved in the meetings, senior representatives from several federal departments took part in some or all of the meetings.

“There’s tons to learn from (Israel) in terms of how they leveraged their security needs into an opportunity,” said Al Dillon, the managing director of CyberNB, a Fredericton-based provincial government agency  whose mandate includes providing and researching secure cybersystems as well as assisting companies who wish to invest in New Brunswick and need tough cybersecurity defences.

“Our (federal) government has not put the appropriate amount of focus and emphasis on cybersecurity in its digital literacy and digital growth programs as of yet. There is active work ongoing but we’re not there yet,” Dillon said. “We should be demanding more of our government in that regard.”

The Post has learned that part of the day for last fall’s Israel-Canada meetings was set aside for a session between a secretive special committee of deputy ministers set up specifically to deal with cyber issues. Cyber, in this context, can refer not only to aspects of federal government security of its computers but also the federal government’s role in attracting new investment in computers, information technology and telecommunications.

The deputy ministers’ committee on cyber is chaired by Public Safety deputy minister Malcolm Brown and includes 14 other members including deputy ministers or equivalents from National Defence, Global Affairs, Finance, Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Justice, and Treasury Board. It also includes the chief of defence staff and top officials from CSIS, CSE, the RCMP, and the Bank of Canada.

The key Israeli official present at these meetings was Eviata Matania who heads Israel’s National Cyber Directorate.

“Cybersecurity is, and will remain one of Canada’s most pressing national security priorities, and given the ubiquity of the Internet, a driver of economic prosperity,”  according to a memo, obtained by the National Post, that was prepared ahead of the Israeli meetings for for John Knubley, the deputy minister at the department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.

But even as Internet-based attacks represent a threat to “the nation’s economic stability, competitiveness and long-term prosperity,” the Knubley memo said cybersecurity “represents an emerging economic opportunity for Canada to carve out a competitive advantage and create a robust, secure leading-edge digital economy.”

Sections of the memo detailing how the Israelis could benefit Canada were blacked out by government censors.

Since that meeting with the Israelis, Public Safety Canada has completed and quietly published the results of consultations it held with with about 2,000 stakeholders, academics, experts and members of the public on cyber issues.

The “Cyber Review Consultations Report”,  posted online March 9 by Public Safety Canada, spells out potential recommendations for action by the private sector, law enforcement agencies and the government.

“The Government of Canada can provide much needed leadership by creating, adopting and modelling best practices for cyber security, and making efforts to transfer this knowledge to the private sector,” the said review,  which was prepared by ACNielsen of Canada Co. 

Review participants told Public Safety Canada that both federal and provincial anti-cybercrime initiatives need more money and resources.

There were also suggestions that government offer incentives and tax credits to encourage best practices, especially within the private sector.

Nonetheless, the March 22 federal budget was silent on these issues. The word cybersecurity is nowhere in the budget though the budget does speak about creating new digital technology superclusters and funding new efforts in artificial intelligence.

Dillon, who, because of his position with CyberNB, works closely with many of the federal deputy ministers on the federal cyber committee, said it his sense that the federal government was not seeking to copy what Israel is doing but rather seeking to understand the processes and areas of focus Israel used to to harden state cybersecurity while exploiting economic opportunities.

Canada, though, will have to develop its own unique plan that takes into account the bilingual nature of the country and that the federal government must develop that plan in concert with the provinces, Dillon said.

“There is a need to build a sovereign and more robust (Internet) infrastructure plan around our data infrastructure and our Internet policies and usage.”

National Post

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