MPs, senator ask why government didn’t warn them they were targeted by China-backed hackers | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis says his privilege as a parliamentarian was violated when the Canadian government failed to warn him and other members of a parliamentary alliance that they had been targeted by China-affiliated hackers.

Genuis said the FBI told the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) that members of the international group had been hit with a pixel reconnaissance cyberattack launched by a suspected Beijing-controlled entity in 2021.

He and other Canadian IPAC members only found out last week, he said.

“This was part of a coordinated attack,” Genuis told the House of Commons Monday morning, rising on a question of privilege.

“This was identified as a progressive reconnaissance attack — an attack aimed at gathering useful information to be used for subsequent escalating attacks against us.”

Liberal MP John McKay, another targeted member of IPAC, told CBC News he received a verbal briefing from IPAC’s executive director warning him that the hacking group Advanced Persistent Threat 31 (APT31) was behind the attack and had access to their computers. The U.K. and U.S. allege the group is an arm of China’s Ministry of State Security.

Liberal MP John McKay, chair of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, waits for the start of a meeting in Ottawa on Monday, July 15, 2019. The Trudeau government is revamping its approach to modern-day slavery, promising new legislation that caught off guard the Liberal MP who's been steering a bill on forced labour through Parliament. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Liberal MP John McKay says he was also told he was hacked. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

“The problem is that this attack is vague. And it’s not clear to me how any information could be accessed or could be used,” McKay said.

“It’s a bit disconcerting.”

The story was first reported by the Globe and Mail Monday morning.

According to Genuis, the hackers used a mailing tool that allowed them to track delivery metrics on emails and receive data from victims who opened the emails — including IP addresses, browser types and operating systems.

“The way I understand it, it’s either something or it’s nothing,” said McKay.

18 Canadian parliamentarians targeted: MP 

Genuis said other Canadians were targeted by the attack and not all are comfortable with coming forward with their names.

In a statement released earlier on Monday, Liberal MP Judy Sgro, Conservative MPs James Bezan, Stephanie Kusie and Tom Kmiec, and Sen. Marilou McPhedran confirmed they were affected by the attack and joined Genuis and McKay in demanding to know why they weren’t informed sooner.

Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran says the targeted MPs should have been told.Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran says the targeted MPs should have been told.

Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran says the targeted MPs should have been told.

Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran says the targeted MPs should have been told. (Jean-Francois Benoit/CBC)

“I can’t see a good reason for not telling people that they’re being targeted, especially when those people are parliamentarians,” said McPhedran.

“I think it’s a very important time for us to take this very seriously and to understand that this is part of the assault on democracy.”

Genuis said the FBI told IPAC it was prevented from informing non-U.S. legislators directly due to their “rules regarding sovereignty.”

In a statement issued to CBC News Monday, the FBI said it notified governments “several years ago” about this alleged cyber activity.

“The FBI notified host government partners of the existence, nature of, and attribution for the targeting activity several years ago, as soon as it was discovered by the FBI,” said the statement.

CBC News has reached out for comment from Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Establishment Security — the agency responsible for foreign signals intelligence, cyber operations and cyber security — and the RCMP.

Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran is seen at an April 2022 press conference on Parliament Hill.Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran is seen at an April 2022 press conference on Parliament Hill.

Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran is seen at an April 2022 press conference on Parliament Hill.

Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

“It is unacceptable that we were not informed,” said Genuis.

“We could have worked with the appropriate authorities to take steps to protect ourselves and ensure the security and functioning of our parliamentary and personal email accounts, but we were not able to because we were not informed. This affected the security of our work as parliamentarians and potentially allowed a foreign entity to have greater awareness of and to seek to counter our efforts.”

Speaker Greg Fergus said he will rule quickly on Genuis’s question of privilege.

CSIS directed to share more info

This is not the first time the Canadian government and its intelligence agencies have been called out for not informing MPs and senators of foreign interference threats.

Last year, the Liberal government directed CSIS to share more information directly with Parliamentarians under threat, and to create a direct line to the minister of public safety.

That directive came in response to the backlash that followed after it was revealed that China was targeting the family Conservative MP Michael Chong, in retaliation for his sponsorship of a motion condemning China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority as genocide.

According to the federal government’s directive, CSIS “will seek wherever possible within the law, and while protecting the security and integrity of national security and intelligence operations and investigations, to ensure that parliamentarians are informed of threats to the security of Canada directed at them.”

The question of how intelligence and security is shared at the federal level is a key focus of the foreign interference inquiry investigating allegations of election meddling.

Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue, who is running the inquiry, is set to present an interim report on Friday.

Last month, the U.S. and U.K. imposed sanctions on individuals and groups they say targeted politicians, journalists and critics of Beijing in an extensive cyber espionage campaign. Authorities on both sides of the Atlantic accused APT31 of being behind those attacks.

At the time, CSE confirmed that APT31 also targeted Canada but did not confirm when Canada was targeted, how many people were hit and what the impact was.

LeBlanc said he met with representatives of the Five Eyes, the intelligence-sharing alliance made up of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

No country is immune to the threat of cyberattacks, he said at the time.


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