CSIS director David Vigneault, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, warns that China is undermining Canada through its efforts to steal valuable technology. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

CSIS director David Vigneault, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, warns that China is undermining Canada through its efforts to steal valuable technology. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Spy chief says China undermining Canada through cyberespionage efforts

‘We all must strengthen our defences,’ warns head of Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)

The head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warns that China is undermining Canada through its efforts to steal valuable technology and silence critics of Beijing’s policies.

In a speech Tuesday sponsored by the Centre for International Governance Innovation, CSIS director David Vigneault said all sectors of Canadian society must work together to fend off these threats.

“To be clear, the threat does not come from the Chinese people, but rather from the government of China that is pursuing a strategy for geopolitical advantage on all fronts — economic, technological, political, and military,” Vigneault said.

He bluntly stated that Beijing is “using all events, all elements of state power, to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty.”

“We all must strengthen our defences.”

Vigneault says ill-intentioned countries will aim to “take advantage” of Canada as it works to get back on its economic feet once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

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Among the sectors of Canada’s economy most vulnerable to state-sponsored cyberespionage are biopharmaceuticals and health, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and aerospace, Vigneault said.

These technologies are largely developed within academia in small startups, which are attractive targets because they have modest security protections and are more likely to pursue collaborations that can, and sadly are, exploited by other countries, he said.

“Investigations reveal that this threat has unfortunately caused significant harm to Canadian companies,” Vigneault said.

“Collectively, it jeopardizes Canada’s knowledge-based economy. When our most innovative technology and know-how is lost, it is our country’s future that is being stolen.”

Federal officials openly say that China has the capacity to conduct foreign interference in Canada by applying pressure and influence in a clandestine and deceptive way to pursue its strategic objectives.

They say China and certain other foreign nations routinely threaten and intimidate people around the world through various state entities and non-state proxies.

One notable example of this is the Chinese government’s covert global operation, known as Operation Fox Hunt, which claims to target corruption “but is also believed to have been used to target and quiet dissidents to the regime,” Vigneault said.

“Those threatened often lack the resources to defend themselves and are unaware that they can report these activities to Canadian authorities, including CSIS.”

In addition, state-sponsored disinformation campaigns have seized on the COVID-19 pandemic to sow confusion and distrust, the Canadian government says.

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