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Ottawa warns of growing cyber-espionage threat, but avoids naming China

The Chinese government sometimes seems to know more about Canadian government decisions than Ottawa announces publicly, a government source told The Globe and Mail yesterday, pointing to fears Beijing is cyber-spying on the federal government.

The issue of cyber-espionage morphed from bubbling undercurrent to the centre of international attention this week after Canadian researchers uncovered a massive online spy ring - dubbed GhostNet - that infected almost 1,300 computers around the world, many of them in foreign ministries and embassies. The bulk of the illegal network's backbone appears to exist on Chinese computer servers.

"It's definitely on the radar," said the government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, about the concern over cyber-espionage in Ottawa.

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Canadian politicians, meanwhile, are being careful not to publicly accuse Beijing of cyber-espionage.

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan warned yesterday that cyber-warfare will be a "growing threat" for the foreseeable future, as he urged Canadian corporations to start patching potential holes in their networks.

Questioned at a press conference in Toronto, Mr. Van Loan hinted that the government is working on a national strategy to counter threats that leave computer networks vulnerable to infiltration.

"It is of great concern," he said. "Not a day that goes by without somebody somewhere in the world trying to breach the government's computer systems."

When asked about China-based spying, Mr. Van Loan sidestepped the question.

The Conservatives, once outspoken about Chinese spying, have largely ceased to draw attention to the problem since taking office. However, there are many indications that such activity is increasing.

"We see that sort of thing every day, all day long," said an Ottawa-based cyber-security expert who spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been cleared to speak to the media. "The Chinese being implicated [in some attacks]is pretty much an open secret."

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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