Spying on Canada: Commercial Espionage Threats to Canadian Business

Canada can do more to protect its businesses from corporate espionage, says a former head of the country’s spy agency.

In an interview on Monday 17th December, with CTV’s “Your Morning”, Dick Fadden, former national security adviser to Stephen Harper and past director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), outlined the increasing threat of commercial espionage.

“It’s something that’s been going on for a while,” he said. “I just think it’s becoming more and more current.”

The federal government opened the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security in October to liaise with the private sector in efforts to better understand cyber security and come up with solutions. But Dick Fadden said it’s generally the government’s view that corporations are as responsible for their own information technology security as they are for their own physical security. That’s where the issue becomes more complex, said Fadden, since in order to protect themselves better corporations need more information.

“For the private sector to really understand all of this the federal government has to share classified information,” which is being done extensively in the U.K. and the U.S., but less so in Canada. “I think we need to do a little bit more of this,” said Fadden. “It enables the private sector to prepare itself rather more easily than if they’re operating sort of in a grey zone of not knowing exactly what they’re against.”

Cyber attacks are increasingly damaging more Canadian businesses. More than 21 per cent of corporations in the country were affected by cyber security incidents last year, when companies spent $14 billion on cyber protection, according to Statistics Canada. In a rare speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto earlier this month, the current CSIS director David Vigneault said commercial espionage is the greatest threat to the Canadian economy.

“Plainly said, there is state-sponsored espionage in Canada,” said Vigneault. “No matter how it’s done or who’s behind it, economic espionage represents a long-term threat to Canada’s economy.”

The threat is not equal across the board, as large companies often have the most valuable information as well as the best security. Universities and small businesses are attractive targets for their less robust security systems. According to Fadden, the most vulnerable sectors are the “strategic” sectors: corporations in the economy’s most vital arenas (infrastructure, communications, finance, nuclear, oil and gas), and in cutting-edge scientific and technological fields.

“It’s become a rather generalised problem,” he said. “Not just in Canada but in the West generally.”