2021 update on cyber threats to Canada's democratic process

News release

Ottawa, July 16, 2021

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) today published the 2021 update to its report on Cyber Threats to Canada's Democratic Process.

This assessment informs Canadians of global trends in cyber threat activity against democratic processes and evaluates the threats in a Canadian context. While CSE assesses that Canada remains a low-priority target for electoral interference relative to other countries, Canada is not entirely immune. It is very likely that Canadian voters will encounter some form of cyber interference ahead of, and during, the next general election.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new narratives for threat actors to exploit to undermine the perceived legitimacy of an election or weaken trust in democratic institutions. For example, threat actors can exploit pervasive falsehoods on social media to covertly disseminate disinformation.

CSE is engaged in ongoing activities to help inform and protect Canadians against this cyber interference in Canada's democratic process. CSE continues to provide cybersecurity advice and guidance to all major political parties. We also encourage Canadians to consult our advice and guidance, such as the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security's online guide for voters. Additionally, CSE's Get Cyber Safe campaign continues to publish timely and user-friendly information on how Canadians can protect themselves online.

The Government of Canada has many procedures in place to safeguard the integrity of the Canadian electoral process. Our federal elections remain paper-based, and CSE continues to work with its national security and intelligence partner agencies to monitor, detect, and combat covert foreign cyber interference activity.

The assessment provides an update to the 2019 report on Cyber Threats to Canada's Democratic Process.

Quotes

“The Communications Security Establishment works closely with our domestic and international partners to assess and respond to foreign threats against Canada’s electoral process. This latest assessment of threats to democratic processes, together with our ongoing cybersecurity advice and services, helps raise awareness and bolster the security of Canada’s federal election..”

Shelly Bruce, Chief, Communications Security Establishment
“At CSE’s Canadian Centre for Cyber Security we recognize the importance of safeguarding democracy in Canada. While we continue to do our part for cyber security, no single organization or individual can address this problem alone. It is our hope that this assessment, along with our advice and guidance publications such as the online guide for voters, will give Canadians the practical tools they need to do their part to increase cyber security in Canada.”
Scott Jones, Head, Canadian Centre for Cyber Security

Quick facts

  • CSE assesses that relative to other countries, Canada remains a lower-priority target for state-sponsored cyber threat activity against democratic processes. However, it is very likely that Canadian voters will experience some form of foreign cyber interference ahead of, and during, the next federal election.
  • After increasing between 2015 to 2017, the proportion of democratic processes targeted by cyber threat actors has remained relatively stable since 2017. Most of this threat activity can be attributed to state-sponsored threat actors in pursuit of strategic political, economic, and geopolitical objectives.
  • Between 2015 and 2020, cyber threat activity was directed at voters more often than against political parties and elections. This activity included online foreign influence activity, such as through social media, as well as traditional cyber threat activities.
  • CSE assesses that the changes made to democratic processes around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as moving parts of the democratic process online or using new technology in the voting process, have had limited impacts on observed cyber threat activity against elections. However, threat actors have harnessed and amplified falsehoods relating to the pandemic to decrease confidence in elections.
  • Canada’s federal elections are paper based, and Elections Canada has numerous legal, procedural, and information technology (IT) measures in place that provide robust protections against attempts to covertly interfere with election results.

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Contacts

For more information (media only), please contact:

Media Relations
Communications Security Establishment
media@cse-cst.gc.ca

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