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Canada among targets of alleged Chinese hacking campaign

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Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


Published Thursday, December 20, 2018 10:59AM EST


Last Updated Thursday, December 20, 2018 1:00PM EST

OTTAWA — Companies in Canada were among the targets of two Chinese citizens charged with waging an extensive hacking campaign to steal valuable data over many years, U.S. authorities say.

In an indictment unsealed Thursday, prosecutors say Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong were acting on behalf of China’s main intelligence agency to pilfer information from several countries.

Beginning about four years ago, Zhu and Zhang waged an intrusion campaign to gain access to computers and networks of “managed service providers” for businesses and governments around the world, the indictment says.

Such providers are private firms that manage clients’ information by furnishing servers, storage, networking, consulting and information-technology support. Breaking into one such computer system can provide a route into multiple customers’ data; the hackers breached the computers of enterprises involved in activities ranging from banking and telecommunications to mining and health care, say the papers filed in U.S. District Court.

The indictment says Zhu and Zhang are members of a group operating in China known as Advanced Persistent Threat 10. They purportedly broke into computers belonging to — or providing services to — companies in at least 12 countries, including Canada.

How? According to the indictment, they used forged emails to get unwitting recipients to open files impregnated with security-breaching malware, a technique called “spear-phishing.”

The two suspects, who worked for Huaying Haital Science and Technology Development Co. in Tianjin, are accused of acting in association with the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s Tianjin State Security Bureau.

Canada’s Communications Security Establishment issued a statement supporting the U.S. allegations a few hours after the American announcement.

“Today, many of Canada’s allies and partners have made statements concerning the compromise of several Managed Service Providers. CSE also assesses that it is almost certain that actors likely associated with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ministry of State Security (MSS) are responsible for the compromise of several Managed Service Providers (MSP), beginning as early as 2016,” it said.

The statement said Canadian authorities detected the threat at the time and warned businesses in general terms about good security habits in dealing with these providers.

The CSE sent out a more detailed bulletin after Thursday’s indictments, advocating practices such as “multi-factor authentication,” which requires people to sign into computers in more than one way, and running background monitoring software that sends up an alert when an apparently legitimate user starts doing unusual things on a company network.

The alleged hackers provided Chinese intelligence officials with sensitive business information, said U.S. deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

“This is outright cheating and theft, and it gives China an unfair advantage at the expense of law-abiding businesses and countries that follow the international rules in return for the privilege of participating in the global economic system,” Rosenstein said.

In one case, the indictment says, the APT10 Group obtained unauthorized access to the computers of an unnamed service provider that had offices in New York state and then compromised the data of the provider and clients in Canada, the United States, Britain, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

The victims included a global financial institution, three telecommunications or consumer electronics companies, three manufacturing firms, two consulting companies, and businesses involved in healthcare, biotechnology, mining, automotive supply and drilling, authorities say. None of them is specified by name in the indictment.

The RCMP and Global Affairs Canada had no immediate comment on the U.S. charges.

In another campaign that began as early as 2006, the APT10 Group, including Zhu and Zhang, allegedly attacked the computers and networks of more than 45 technology companies and U.S. government agencies to steal valuable information and data about various technologies.

The group made off with hundreds of gigabytes of sensitive data by targeting the computers of companies involved in aviation, space and satellite technology, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and oil and gas exploration, among others, the indictment says. It also broke into computers that held data belonging to NASA and the U.S. navy and took private identify information of more than 100,000 navy personnel, the indictment says.

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Canadian tech diversity and inclusion in the spotlight

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Diversity and inclusion are hot-button issues, but for all the attention they get, there’s still work to be done in the tech sector, according to a recent Gartner blog.

Citing a range of challenges that include pay inequity, lack of diversity in corporate management, and difficulty recruiting diverse talent, the blog suggests three possible remedies for organizations trying to become more diverse and inclusive: having a long-term plan but focusing on one aspect that will make the most benefit, setting targets and making leadership accountable, and committing resources.

The call for such strategies finds support in a report from the Brookfield Institute revealing that Canada’s technology sector has a disappointing track record when it comes to inclusion and equity, with women “four times less likely to be employed in the sector than men, and earning on average $7,300 less than men in technology jobs.”

The findings are just as grim in a January 2020 report funded by Canada’s Future Skills Centre. According to this document, despite corporate commitments to diversity, “decades of initiatives designed to advance women in technology have scarcely had an effect: The proportion of women in engineering and computer science in Canada has changed little in 25 years.”

And women are not the only disadvantaged group, says the report. “The under-employment of skilled immigrants and under-representation of women and other groups in the ICT industry suggests that recruitment and retention policies and practices of the very firms complaining about this [skills] gap may be contributing to the problem.”

Until we do a better job of addressing inclusion and diversity, career opportunities will continue to be limited for women, internationally educated professionals, racialized minorities, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. In addition to being a very human issue, this is also one that perpetuates the ICT skills gap by failing to tap into a supply of well-qualified labour.

On the bright side, there are technology companies and organizations across Canada that are truly determined to create opportunities for those who are under-represented in the digital talent pool. There is also an opportunity to recognize their efforts during Channel Innovation 2021: Adapting to the New Customer Experience, a 2.5-hour, virtual event on April 28, 2021.

A showcase for independent software vendors (ISVs) and Canadian channel innovators, the Channel Innovation 2021 celebration will take place on CIA-TV, a unique ITWC platform that allows the audience to take in the show, download related content and videos, and network in live breakout rooms. There are six award categories, including the C4 Award for Diversity and Inclusion. Nominating is simple. Whether a self- or third-party nomination, there are only two main questions to answer and an opportunity to include a supporting document or image.

Winning entries will be announced during the celebration and profiled in the Channel Daily News Magazine and in Direction Informatique, ITWC’s French-language publication devoted to the Quebec marketplace. They will also receive a digital badge for use on their websites and on social media to help gain industry-wide recognition and end-user exposure.

The media attention and recognition are reason enough to vie for this honour, and we always need things to celebrate during a global pandemic, but the real value in awards for diversity and inclusion is in setting an example for others to follow. The news is full of the ways we are falling down when it comes to equity in the IT sector. Let’s take some time to highlight the success stories and encourage other tech innovators to step up.

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Leading Canadian tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar to give virtual keynote in Peterborough on March 9

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In celebration of International Women’s Day, one of Canada’s leading female tech entrepreneurs will be giving a virtual keynote for residents of Peterborough and the Kawarthas on Tuesday, March 9th at 7 p.m.

The Innovation Cluster is hosting Saadia Muzaffar as part of its ‘Electric City Talks’ series.

Muzaffar is a tech entrepreneur, author, and passionate advocate of responsible innovation, decent work for everyone, and prosperity of immigrant talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She is the founder of TechGirls Canada, a hub for Canadian women in STEM, and co-founder of Tech Reset Canada, a group of business people, technologists, and other residents advocating for innovation that is focused on the public good.

In 2017, Muzaffar was featured in Canada 150 Women, a book about 150 of the most influential and groundbreaking women in Canada. Her work has been featured in CNNMoney, BBC World, Fortune Magazine, The Globe and Mail, VICE, CBC, TVO, and Chatelaine.

Muzaffar’s March 9th talk, entitled ‘Redefining Term Sheets: Success, Solidarity, & The Future We Want’, will inspire women to achieve success in all areas of life, including in business by providing strategies for obtaining funding.

“It is impossible to explain how women only get 2.2 per cent of funding for their ventures while we constitute a majority of the population, without acknowledging long-standing structural and systemic bias,” Muzaffar says, describing her talk. “Women know these odds in our bones because we feel them in too many boardrooms, banks, media advertisements, and venture competitions — yet women are the fastest-growing demographic in new businesses.”

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ARK’s Cathie Wood joins board of Canadian tech firm mimik

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ARK Invest’s Cathie Wood is joining the board of Canadian technology company mimik.

Vancouver-based mimik is an edge computing company that effectively turns devices like phones into private cloud servers. It has already teamed up with Amazon Web Services and IBM on edge computing – two of the bigger players in the space.

The AWS partnership gives software developers access to mimik’s cloud platform. Together, edge devices including smart phones, tablets, and Internet of Things (IoT) products can act as extensions of the AWS cloud. With the IBM partnership, mimik’s technology will be included in automation and digital transformation across manufacturing, retail, IoT and healthcare.

All of mimik’s business lines fit in with Wood’s broad ‘next generation internet’ thesis, one of her big five investment themes. The company itself is private and Wood is not an investor. 

However, as Citywire noted in January, Wood has hinted in interviews that ARK is exploring the launch of a private markets strategy. 

Wood joins a relatively high profile board at mimik. Other members include  Allen Salmasi, a pioneer in mobile technology who was previously with Qualcomm, and Ori Sasson, managing director of Primera Capital, who was an investor in VMWare and other technology companies.

‘I’ve always believed in backing founders who are at the forefront of innovation,’ Wood said in a statement on her decision to join mimik. ‘At mimik, [they] have built a foundation for the next generation of cloud computing.’ 

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