Cyber Threats To Canada's Democratic Process

Canada's Democratic Process

In this assessment we restrict our analysis of the democratic process to three key aspects that adversaries can target: (1) elections; (2) political parties and politicians; and (3) the media (see Figure 1).

Elections are at the core of any democracy. They are the way that citizens select their representatives and their government. For an orderly and peaceful transition of power to take place, citizens must trust that the outcome of an election is valid and free from interference. This is why democratic elections must be carried out in a transparent way, in which observers can verify every step of the process.

Political parties and politicians are the political institutions and individuals competing for power in an election. They represent the interests of voters and seek to generate support for domestic and foreign policies which they believe are in the best interest of Canadians.

The media is where discourse between politicians and voters most often occurs. By media we mean both traditional media (e.g. newspapers and television news networks) and social media.

These three aspects of the democratic process are so important that they are protected by Canada’s constitution. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians the right to select their members of parliament in a free and fair election. The Charter also protects Canadians’ right to freedom of expression and belief – including allowing citizens to freely engage, challenge, and propagate ideas in public. The Charter also specifically protects the freedom of the press.

Trust is at the core of all aspects of the democratic process. For democracy to work, citizens need to trust that the process is fair, that politicians are not beholden to foreign or criminal interests, and that the media is not influenced by foreign or criminal interests attempting to sway voters and the outcome of the democratic process.

Figure 1: Canada's democratic process

Figure 1 - Description


What: Electoral bodies and their infrastructure; the voting process

Threat: Prevent voters from registering online, prevent citizens from voting, tamper with the election results, steal voter database

Political Parties and Politicians

What: Websites, email, etc. of politicians, candidates, and political parties

Threat: Conduct cyberespionage against a political target, embarrass or discredit a political target, blackmail a political target, steal voter or party member database

The Media

What: Traditional and social media; how Canadians receive information and interact with the democratic process

Threat: Manipulate traditional and social media in order to influence the political discussion and/or reduce trust in the democratic process