Cyberattacks on Canada have already begun.
Some politicians and cyber experts have been raising the alarm about cyberattacks and social media lies as threats to democracies, to mostly indifferent reaction, for years. The lies and attacks are already happening in Canada:
Here’s the tally of just the past two weeks:
- Conservative online campaigners are caught impersonating a leading Canadian educational foundation in a new attack ad.
- Anti-Islamists are caught using Jason Kenney’s UCP party logo — clearly without permission — to send threatening messages to Alberta mosques.
- Vicious attacks on Jagmeet Singh, including claims he is a wanted terrorist, appear on many social media platforms all at once.
“Ah,” you say, “but at least they were all caught …” Well, not before they were given wide circulation, distribution that may still be going on more covertly.
Secondly, it took two years, to discover that the Russians had whispered in literally millions of American ears in 2016. Leading Canadian cyber guru Ron Deibert cited this stunning stat recently, “ … more than 80 per cent of [those accounts] are still active, and publish more than a million tweets on a typical day.” Then contemplate how many thousands of new accounts have been created since.
It has become an international meme among the political class to flail the social media platforms for permitting this poisoning of political cyberspace. Google, Twitter and especially Facebook do have to answer for the greed and naivete that led them to be the disseminators of this plague of lies, stolen identities and damaging impersonations of politicians. Look up the fake Obama ads and be impressed how clever and believable are the counterfeits.
Too late, and only after heavy attacks, the social media platforms have all taken steps to try to plug some of the gaps. Each now have hundreds of employees trying to stay in front of this wave of poisonous incitement.
But it’s not good enough. Shared databases of known fakers, public naming of those who have paid for or produced captured ads, stiffer criminal penalties for impersonation and dissemination of lies, and an international task force with operational funding to act as the locus of monitoring, detection and control are all past due.
With the explosion of child pornography on the net, we learned that any attempt at controlling the filth requires an international network, sophisticated technology tools, and the support of cyber experts and police officers trained in piercing the disguises and the hidden corners of the dark web world.
But here is another breathtaking number: According to Diebert, at least 48 nations have public agencies using the net to covertly shape public opinion. There are few child pornographers protected by state power.
Two hot button issues across the democratic world — racism linked to immigration, and sexual harassment on and off the net — will be the likely centre of cyber criminals efforts in Canada this year. It is pretty clear what types of attacks, directed at which individuals, using what phoney claims and fake video will be on offer.
Predicting the perpetrators and their targets is, however, a long way from preventing the damage they can — and demonstrably are — capable of inflicting. Public shaming — kudos to Jeff Bezos — is a powerful tool with both.
The Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, led by retired NATO boss and former Danish PM, Anger Fogh Rasmussen, and by Michael Chertoff, a Bush senior security official, are pushing governments to wake up.
They call for transatlantic governments and the tech sector to take action now. They point to the dozen or more heavily financed election disruption activities undertaken in just the last five years. Rasmussen puts the immediacy and seriousness of the challenge ahead eloquently, also underlining the broad sweep of the vulnerable electorates:
“With 20 potentially pivotal elections … ahead of the next U.S. presidential election, we cannot afford to stand by while … cyber hacks, misinformation campaigns and other strategies seek to alter the outcome of our elections….”
We should be listening more closely and acting more quickly. The attacks have begun.