As trust in online spaces degrades, Canada bolsters resilience against cyber attacks

In this Help Net Security interview, Sami Khoury, Head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, talks about how Canada is addressing today’s top threats, touches upon his long career and offers tips for those new to the industry.

Canada cyber

What are today’s top threats, and how is Canada addressing them? Generally, how would you rate Canada’s cybersecurity posture?

Over the past two years, cybersecurity has become a top concern for Canadians. Ransomware incidents hit the headlines on an almost daily basis both in Canada and around the world. Cybercrime is still the number one cyber threat activity affecting Canadians. However, the state-sponsored cyber programs of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea continue to pose the greatest strategic cyber threat to Canada. And critical infrastructure is still a prime target for both cybercriminals and state-sponsored actors alike.

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (Cyber Centre) recently published its National Cyber Threat Assessment 2023-24 report. This publication is meant to help inform Canadians about the threats they face, and we’ve also prepared advice and guidance tailored to the five narratives identified in the report.

These companion publications outline practical steps to mitigate the risks associated with each theme. We have partnered with the industry on a variety of cyber projects to share threat information and analyze data, but there are too many positives to mention.

From a government cybersecurity perspective, Canada has a robust framework and clear governance mechanisms to support the defense of government networks against cyber attacks. On any given day, our defensive systems can block anywhere from 3 to 5 billion events targeting the Government of Canada’s networks, and up to 7 billion. These defensive actions are a result of CSE and the Cyber Centre’s existing dynamic cyber defense capabilities which remain ready to defend the Canadian government’s systems and help protect against future attacks.

The cyber threat landscape in Canada continues to evolve. Canadians use the Internet more often and for a greater number of tasks. As more devices are connected to the Internet, the cyber threat surface expands. Cyber threat actors adapt their activities and utilize new technologies to achieve their financial, geopolitical, or ideological goals. Canadian organizations and critical infrastructure operators are becoming more informed of the threats, but there is still work to do.

At the Cyber Centre, we approach security through collaboration, combining expertise from government, industry, and academia. Working together, we can increase Canada’s resilience against cyber threats. We need to continue making Canada a harder target for cybercriminals and state-sponsored actors.

When you reflect on your 30 years in the Communications Security Establishment, what project or initiative makes you the proudest?

Our operational environment is very challenging, whether it be on the intelligence side, or in cybersecurity.

The threats are real. Every time we make a difference, and make Canada safer, as well as work together with our allies to protect our online environments, it’s a win. There isn’t one initiative I am most proud of, but to be clear, there are many (and most of them are too sensitive to mention).

However, I would like to think the release of our third National Cyber Threat Assessment report two weeks ago is a great accomplishment by the Cyber Centre team, and it is a threat report I am most proud of. The fact that our teams came together during a pandemic to put together this great document is impressive, and it encompasses clear and authoritative language that Canadians can understand. The NCTA received widespread positive feedback on its clear language and comprehensive coverage of the threats we face as a nation.

How would you describe your leadership style? What personal goals do you have for yourself during your tenure as Head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security?

Over the past year, I have come to appreciate the wealth of knowledge on our operational and mission teams. My key goal is to tap into this rich talent pool and enable our employees to excel at whatever they do.

I see myself as an enabler, clearing the path (or plowing it, since we are Canadians) to enable the various teams to advance their work in support of our important mission. I believe in giving them the latitude to innovate, the leadership encouragement to lean forward and take some risks, and most importantly support them when they are under stress and pressure.

Let’s talk about Cybertech NYC 2022. What do you expect from the event? What will your presentation be about?

This is my first time attending Cybertech, but I’ve heard a lot about it, most importantly the level of innovation. I definitely do not think I will be disappointed! As I hear various key speakers or walk around the exhibit floor, I expect I will be impressed by what I hear and bring back some ideas, or identify partnership opportunities with others, since as we know cybersecurity is a team sport.

My presentation will cover three themes: innovation, the cyber threat landscape (specially as it relates to the tech sector), and partnership opportunities.

Given your extensive experience, what is one piece of advice you would like to pass along to the younger members of the cybersecurity industry?

You can make a difference. Be passionate about your work; have a vision; and develop a plan and know your goal. I would add, don’t chase the 100% solution, 80% is good enough and iterate to refine.

Too often young entrepreneurs or engineers miss the opportunity to make a difference, or bring an idea to market by being fixated on the perfect solution to a problem. Being passionate about what you do is important, but you also need to be realistic and set clear and achievable outcomes.

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