Foreign national influence: Persistent, political and personal.
October 18, 2019
Focus Area — Innovation & Technology
You might recall the #TrudeauMustGo tweet that made headlines in July. Perhaps you heard about the highly critical Google News-promoted story from Advocator.ca. These two events have something in common: they’re both cyber threats. In August, BuzzFeed News reported that Advocator.ca was in fact a Romanian run website posing as a Canadian news outlet. In July The National Observer reported that the anti-Trudeau hashtag was trending due to aggressive bot activity originating outside of Canada.
Malicious online activities have become commonplace throughout the past decade and they have significant consequences. Let’s consider some real life, real time scenarios.
We are nearing the end of the federal election; Canada's intelligence services recently warned federal parties that six countries have tried to influence our elections—online and through their diaspora communities. While unfortunate, this likely came as no surprise to many candidates. Canadian media have spent three years warning and educating us about foreign-funded “fake news” stories. Additionally, the Communications Security Establishment released Cyber Threats to Canada’s Democratic Process, cautioning that it is “very likely that Canadian voters will encounter some form of foreign cyber interference related to the 2019 federal election.”
But cyber threats aren't the only threats Canadians are facing. We open ourselves to possible foreign influence anytime we travel overseas or make investment decisions. When we're abroad, we expose ourselves to foreign media outlets; we meet new people and we connect on social media, unaware of warning signals as we go. Our investment decisions can open us to foreign influence, too. We might invest in companies owned by hostile foreign actors or we might invest in companies that are later purchased by hostile foreign actors. These investments could open us to coercion.
Of course, foreign national influence is not a new concern; foreign entities have been trying to influence our politics and media for decades. Yet, the mechanisms that are being used to influence Canadians have changed. They’re becoming more persistent, political and personal.
We will discuss these issues at our upcoming meeting between the Council on Security and Cyber Security Council (Ottawa, November 12th-13th). Join us! We’ll spend a day and a half hearing from experts about diverse examples of foreign national influence. To attend the event or learn more about the Council, please contact Deborah Fleck, our Senior Manager of Executive Networks.
Dr. Vanessa Thomas
Senior Research Associate I