CSIS’s COVID-19 Outreach Initiative
As Canadian researchers and businesses adapted and innovated to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, so too did various threat actors – particularly those from abroad. Canada’s research, biopharmaceutical and life sciences sectors, while already of interest to foreign threat actors, became even more valuable targets as the world raced to develop a vaccine, therapeutics, and other measures to combat COVID-19. The vulnerabilities of these organizations to espionage and foreign interference were exacerbated by remote work and increased public visibility of their efforts. CSIS and its allies noted a sharp increase in both the scope and scale of hostile threat actors’ activities targeting these sectors.
While CSIS has long engaged with academia and has been advising the Canadian public about threats to our national security for many years, the high stakes involved in protecting Canada’s biopharmaceutical and life sciences sectors during the pandemic led CSIS to take a more visible and proactive engagement role than ever before. At the onset of the pandemic, CSIS initiated a Canada-wide outreach and engagement initiative focused on academia, research institutions, and private sector companies in the biopharmaceutical, life sciences, and data science sectors. A public statement about this outreach was issued jointly with the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) on May 14, 2020 warning Canadians about the increased risk of foreign interference and espionage. Similarly, on September 14, 2020, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry and the Minister of Health released a joint-statement advising Canadian health organizations, government partners and industry stakeholders to remain vigilant of cyber threats as well as foreign interference and espionage targeting their institutions and important work.
In order to reach a large number of organizations – and with the necessary speed – during the pandemic, CSIS leveraged all available tools to brief stakeholders. Large virtual briefings were offered to the academic and research community, with complementary threat briefings provided in several instances by CSIS and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security. In order to reach even wider audiences, CSIS provided briefings to large organizations, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and amplified these efforts online and through the media. These briefings provided stakeholders with clear information about the threat and possible impact of espionage and foreign interference on their work as well as the steps they should take to protect themselves. To convey this information, CSIS publicly introduced the Four Gates of Economic Security framework to explain how foreign interference and espionage present economic security risks including what could be targeted and how threat activity may occur.
The Four Gates of Economic Security
Long description of infographic : Four Gates of Economic Security
Threat actors may try to access valuable information through the four gates:
- 1. Exports
Threat actors may simply try to purchase sensitive technology from Canadian companies or researchers, either for immediate deployment or in order to try to reverse engineer it themselves. Harm to Canada’s national security and economic prosperity (future sales/research) may then occur as a result of the unauthorized onward sharing of the technology.
Threat actors use a range of financial arrangements (e.g., foreign direct investment, joint ventures) through which they can gain access to Canadian technologies and know-how. Through these investments, threat actors gain new capabilities and Canada loses out on future economic opportunities.
Threat actors have previously used both technical and human intelligence operations in order to acquire intellectual property or gain the access required to achieve their objectives. Examples include: cyberespionage, insider threat activity within Canadian companies, collaboration agreements, and co-opted individuals (e.g., talent programs).
Threat actors may seek privileged access to technology or intellectual property through licenses and rights which can be abused to gain new capabilities and rob Canadian entities of the economic benefits of their work. Examples include: patents; rights to deliver a service; or permission to enter Canada. Often the licenses are not the objective themselves, but rather the means to the threat actor’s ultimate goal.
Threat actors may try to access valuable information through the four gates: 1) imports and exports; 2) investments; 3) knowledge; and 4) licences. For example, Canadian imports and exports of medical supplies and protective equipment are crucial to keep Canadians safe, and presents one gate threat actors may try to access. Investing in a business can be another way to obtain access to an organization’s intellectual property or specialized research and development regarding vaccines and new technologies. Canadian innovation, research and intellectual property could be the target of foreign intelligence operations to gain access to knowledge and sensitive data, including by cyber-attacks, spies, and insider threats. Threat actors may even exploit patents, rights, and other licenses to illicitly gain access to medicines, technologies, or intellectual property. Threat actors may try to access all four gates, but they only need to exploit one to cause serious harm.
As the focus moved from the development of vaccines and therapeutics to the delivery and distribution of vaccines, CSIS pivoted to reach Canada’s supply chain sector and other relevant stakeholders involved in the manufacturing, distribution, and supply of COVID-19 vaccines and other critical supplies.
In total, CSIS contacted more than 225 entities across Canada and briefed at least 2000 Canadian stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. As the pandemic moves into new critical phases through 2021, CSIS will continue to engage vulnerable Canadian sectors to ensure they are aware of threats of the espionage and foreign interference targeting their innovation and intellectual property. This will allow them to take proactive steps to mitigate these threats, protecting their work as well as Canada’s economic security and future prosperity.
CSIS Support to the Government of Canada’s Pandemic Response
From the outset of the pandemic, CSIS monitored and advised the Government of Canada on threat actors’ exploitation of the spread of COVID-19 for geo-strategic purposes, including activities that constituted potential threats to Canada’s national response to the pandemic. CSIS’s support to the government’s pandemic response efforts included the distribution of unclassified and classified intelligence reports to provide senior decision-makers with up-to-date situational awareness and to alert partners to specific national security threats.
As the pandemic progresses, CSIS will continue to be a trusted source of advice for government partners, including Public Services and Procurement Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, and the Canadian Armed Forces on vaccine procurement, logistics, and other efforts by the Government of Canada. CSIS will continue to work closely with the other members of Canada’s security and intelligence community, as well as allied partners, to help protect Canada’s pandemic response from potential national security threats.
Report a problem or mistake on this page
- Date modified: