Canada blames Chinese hackers for attack on National Research Council

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 1:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 1:36am

Canada yesterday took the unusual step of singling out Chinese hackers for attacking a key computer network and lodged a protest with Beijing, raising tensions at a time when Ottawa wants to boost oil sales to China.

Officials said "a highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor" had recently broken into the National Research Council. The council, the government's leading research body, works with major firms such as aircraft and train maker Bombardier.

Canada has reported hacking incidents before but this was the first time it had singled out China. China is often cited as a suspect in various hacking attacks on companies in the United States and other nations. Beijing routinely dismisses such allegations.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird had "a full and frank exchange of views" about the case with Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting in Beijing yesterday, said an official.

"The government takes this issue very seriously and we are addressing it at the highest levels in both Beijing and Ottawa," said Baird spokesman Adam Hodge.

Corinne Charette, Canada's chief government information officer, said that although NRC computers did not operate within the overall government system, they had been isolated as a precautionary measure.

"We have no evidence that data compromises occurred on the broader government of Canada network," she said.

Separately, the NRC said it was working to set up a new secure network, which could take as long as a year to build.

Canada's right-leaning Conservative government has had an uneven relationship with Beijing since taking power in 2006.

Citing human rights concerns, Prime Minister Stephen Harper initially kept his distance from China. Under pressure from businesses in Canada, he reached out gradually to Beijing.

Harper made an official visit in 2012 and promised to do all he could to increase oil exports, citing the need to find new markets. The United States currently buys virtually all Canada's crude.

The attack on the NRC system was not the first hacking attempt in Canada linked to China.

In September 2012, Canada said it was aware that hackers had breached security at a domestic manufacturer of software used by big energy companies. Ottawa declined to comment on a report by a cybersecurity news site indicating a Chinese group was responsible.