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Why are there so many cyberattacks lately? An explainer on the rising trend

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A wave of high-profile cyberattacks has recently hit hospitals, businesses and organizations in Ontario, including the LCBO this week and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and Scouts Canada in December.

The Canadian Press spoke with cybersecurity experts about whether cyberattacks are on the rise, why they are happening, and what people and businesses can do to protect themselves.

Are cyberattacks happening more often?

These attacks “absolutely are” happening more frequently than before, says Robert Falzon, head of engineering at cybersecurity firm Check Point Canada, noting it is something that is likely going to be happening on a daily basis now.

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One reason for that is the rising access of technology that enables the development of malware, scripting and other tools for potential hackers such as the AI-powered computer program ChatGPT.

“It has the ability for someone with not very much skill set or maybe even not a great command of the English language to create a full, almost flawless script to use in an attack against somebody in a phone scam or an email phishing scam or what have you,” Falzon says.

“In the past, (hackers and scammers) would rely on their own grammar and spelling skills, which often many people were able to identify and say, ‘oh, that looks like a scam.’ They’re getting harder and harder to detect now.”

Charles Finlay, the founding executive director of the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst Centre at Toronto Metropolitan University, agrees that these attacks are increasing — especially the kind that hit SickKids on Dec. 18, which affected phone lines and internal clinical systems and delayed lab and imaging results.

“They’re increasing across western democracies,” Finlay says. “This is a serious problem, a serious challenge, that is becoming increasingly severe.”

Another reason for the rise, he says, is that the ransomware industry is growing as a multi-billion dollar global criminal industry.

“It’s supported by sovereign countries that harbour ransomware attackers, and ransomware attacks have proven to be highly lucrative,” says Finlay, noting that cyberattacks are also increasing as our reliance on technology does.

Are public bodies being targeted?

Falzon says Check Point Canada has seen malware specifically developed to be deployed against a particular company or entity, something they call campaigns.

“They’re either using phishing or an even more advanced version of phishing, called whaling, where … it looks like it’s coming from an executive instructing his workers to do XYZ,” Falzon says “And as soon as they open or click or do anything in that email, they end up infecting the organization.”

Hackers will target any organization that they believe they can leverage a ransom from, Finlay says, which is one of the reasons the attacks seem to be getting more aggressive.

“The more important the organization, the more critical that organization is to the proper functioning of society or the economy, the more likely it is that ransomware gang will be able to leverage significant financial return,” Finlay says.

“So the attack on SickKids hospital is exactly the kind of attack that we need to expect.”

But it’s possible that organizations aren’t always being targeted, Falzon says, as many of the tools that result in these cyberattacks take what he calls a scattergun approach – sending an email out to thousands of potential victims.

“Those are incidental attacks where somebody unfortunately fell victim to either clicking on a phishing email or an attachment or something, and then it infected that system in that area. And now you’ve got a widespread problem.”

What can people do to protect themselves from cyberattacks?

Keeping computers and mobile devices up to date with the latest software is critical, Falzon says, as manufacturers are frequently creating “patches and updates” to target vulnerabilities.

“As all of these attacks become more sophisticated, our defence needs to become more sophisticated,” Falzon says, noting that passwords must also be updated frequently and should never be used for more than one site or service.

He advises people to download ransomware protection software on personal devices and become hyperaware when opening emails or text messages from unknown source.

“It’s a massive risk to carry that around and not have any protection on it,” Falzon says.

“Somebody could send you a text, whether it’s WhatsApp, for example, where a simple text (is) sent to your cellphone, you view it, and next thing you know you’re vulnerable. They can control your camera, your microphone, to see where you are, read your text messages, things like that.”

What should businesses and organizations do to prevent falling victim to cyberattacks?

The question is not if an attack will happen, Finlay says, but when – something organizations need to keep in mind.

He suggests they do a “really thorough” risk assessment to discover any systems or data that are vulnerable to a cyberattack and then work with experts to determine how to protect them.

“That often involves investing in people, processes and technologies, so training your people to be aware of cybersecurity attacks,” Finlay says.

Cyber awareness training is “absolutely” the first tool businesses, the government and even schools need to adopt to protect themselves, Falzon says.

“I’m a firm believer that we need to start doing that at an even younger age,” he says.

For example, concepts like “cyber hygiene” could be taught to children – teaching them about passwords and what to avoid clicking on online.

“We have to switch to prevention rather than trying to detect because by the time you’ve detected what’s happening, it’s far too late,” said Falzon. “It’s already been successful.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2023.

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Northwest Territories releases fiscal year 2023-2024 budget

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Northwest Territories releases fiscal year 2023-2024 budget

The Northwest Territories government released its new budget Wednesday, the last before the territorial election set for the fall.

Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said the plan aims to maintain the stability of the territory’s economy during times of “volatility and uncertainty” without reducing services and programs.

“I am confident that we are leaving the next assembly with a fiscally sustainable foundation on which to build,” she said.

The proposed $2.2-billion budget forecasts the territory will have an operating surplus of nearly $178 million. It projects revenue to increase by 2.9 per cent, largely due to an increase in federal transfers, while spending will increase by $187 million or 7.3 per cent compared to the previous budget.

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Wawzonek said initiatives to address the rising cost of living in the North include increasing student financial assistance, improved income assistance for seniors and people with disabilities, and support for non-government organizations.

“Students, seniors, the non-profit sector, these are areas where we can have a real impact and hopefully help mitigate the impacts of inflation,” she said.

Increased spending in the budget is to include $82 million for mandate priorities and enhancements to existing programs, as well as $62 million to cover the costs of flooding in 2022. Thousands of residents in Hay River and the nearby K’atl’odeeche First Nation reserve were ordered to evacuate their homes due to the worst flooding on record in May.

Other budget highlights include $10.9 million for the transition from the pandemic to endemic stage of COVID-19, $10.1 million to help recruit and retain front-line health-care workers, $10.3 million for the territory’s $10-a-day child-care agreement with the federal government, $8.3 million to help offset the effects of the increased carbon tax, and $4 million for core Northwest Territories Housing Corporation programs.

The budget also proposes $833,000 for community governments and $89,000 for the Deline Goti’ne Government to reach the territory’s goal of reducing its municipal funding gap by $5 million between 2019 and 2023.

The N.W.T. government is not proposing any new taxes, but property taxes are expected to increase due to inflation. The territory also plans to change its carbon tax system to align with new federal requirements.

The federal government announced in August 2021 it would increase the carbon price by $15 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually, starting at $65 a tonne beginning in April and rising to $170 a tonne by 2030. It is also prohibiting rebates that directly offset the carbon tax. In response, the N.W.T. plans to adjust its carbon tax rates, replace its heating fuel rebate by increasing its cost of living offset, and replace a carbon tax rebate for large emitters with a rebate tied to a facility-specific baseline.

Some legislature members have expressed concern with the plan as heating costs are high in the North, especially in the Arctic, and many communities are reliant on diesel.

Wawzonek said if the proposed changes aren’t passed by the legislature, the federal government will determine how to return revenue to the N.W.T.

The territory projects borrowing will increase by 4.5 per cent, bringing its total debt to about $1.5 billion, which it said is well below the federally imposed limit of $1.8 billion.

When the previous budget was tabled a year ago, the territory expected its total debt to increase to more than $1.6 billion by the end of the fiscal year. In October, however, the territory revised its capital estimates or the amount of money it expected to spend on infrastructure, to better reflect the territory’s capacity to complete projects, reducing spending from more than $500 million to a cap of $260 million.

The territory’s 2022-2023 $2.1-billion budget saw a 2.3 per cent increase in spending compared to 2021-2022.

Wawzonek touted that budget as a sustainable plan, promising to not cut programming or add new taxes while limiting new spending.

While the budget was passed in April 2022, several legislature members opposed the plan, criticizing limited spending on communities outside of Yellowknife.

Wawzonek said at a news conference Wednesday that she suspects there may be similar criticisms of the new budget.

She said, however, that she believes the budget can respond to those concerns, adding she has had discussions with legislature members about what they wanted to see in it.

“I think we as a collective 19 are getting a little better at doing that,” she said.

“I actually think this is maybe going to be the best year for the consensus-style approach to passing a budget.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Driver charged with first-degree murder in Quebec daycare bus attack that killed two

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Quebec daycare bus attack

The driver of a bus that crashed into a suburban Montreal daycare this morning, killing two children, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Pierre Ny St-Amand, 51, appeared by video late this afternoon from a hospital room and will remain detained

Court documents show he faces a total of nine charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm.

Six other children were injured and transported to hospitals in Laval and Montreal, but doctors said their lives were not in danger.

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At around 8:30 a.m., a Société de transport de Laval bus crashed into the daycare building, which sits at the end of a driveway a significant distance from the nearest bus route.

Witnesses who rushed to the scene said they had to subdue the driver, who seemed to be delirious and removed his clothing after getting off the bus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey after earthquake

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey

A senior government official says a Canadian assessment team is on its way to Turkey to determine how Canada can contribute to earthquake relief efforts.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan was expected to formally announce the deployment of the Canadian Disaster Assessment Team this evening.

The senior official, who spoke on background pending Sajjan’s official confirmation, said the team consists of a handful of military and Global Affairs officials.

The official underscored that the deployment of the team does not automatically guarantee a further deployment of Canadian resources to the country.

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The earthquake, which razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria on Monday, is one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade and the federal government is facing criticism that the window to help with rescue efforts is closing.

Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local emergency personnel and Canadian humanitarian aid workers with charitable organizations were arriving Wednesday

Defence Minister Anita Anand said late Tuesday that the federal government had not ruled out sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team, to help with the recovery effort, but that it was working to figure out what would be most useful.

The assessment team would recommend whether to send additional support, such as a DART.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would match funds donated to Canadian Red Cross relief efforts up to $10 million on top of an initial aid package of $10 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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