British Columbia government criticized for withholding information about cyber breach

BC United leader Kevin Falcon said the timing of the announcement was suspicious and aimed at burying bad news.

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The BC NDP is coming under fire for waiting more than a week to inform the public that the government had been hit by a cybersecurity attack.

Premier David Eby announced at 6 p.m. Wednesday that the province had been the target of “sophisticated cybersecurity incidents” involving government networks, eight days after government employees were asked to change and strengthen their passwords.

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BC United leader Kevin Falcon said the timing of the announcement was suspicious and aimed at burying bad news.

“We know that for at least eight days they knew this was a problem,” Falcón said Thursday. “And (Wednesday night), they quietly issued a statement in the middle of the Canucks playoff hockey game, which is part of their pattern of always being secretive about things and not being transparent.”

Early last week provincial employees were advised to immediately change their passwords to 14 characters. BC’s Office of the Chief Information Officer at the time described this as part of governments’ efforts to “routinely” update security measures.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the government became aware of the threat recently but declined to give an exact time.

He said technical security experts began working to secure the system immediately.

“The challenge of coming out immediately and telling people that this is the time to do it, if you haven’t secured everything, if you haven’t understood what’s happening, then you’re making the system more vulnerable to outside interference from people. who is up to mischief,” he told reporters Thursday.

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Farnworth did not say whether foreign actors were behind the attack.

There has been no ransom demand, he said. “That’s one thing I can confirm: it was not a ransomware incident.”

Farnworth reiterated Eby’s statement that there is no evidence that sensitive information, such as personal health records, was accessed or compromised.

The prime minister’s office said the government’s online security firewall prevents 1.5 billion unauthorized access attempts to its online systems each day.

Eric Li, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia in the Okanagan who specializes in cybersecurity, said it’s particularly concerning when governments fall victim to cybersecurity attacks because the sensitive information they hold on millions of British Columbians, including social security numbers, addresses and telephone numbers – creates a serious risk of identity theft. However, Li did not criticize the way the government handled news of the cyberattack.

Li said artificial intelligence has become so sophisticated that as soon as a government or company upgrades its security networks, the AI ​​system immediately adapts to find other ways to hack them.

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One can think of an online server, a treasure trove of personal data, like a house with many doors, Li said. When hackers break through one door, online security experts must work to protect the other doors while also fixing the weakness that allowed the breach in the first place.

Farnworth said that without a review of online security undertaken by the government in 2022, the security breach could have gone unnoticed.

The government is working with the Canadian Cyber ​​Security Center and law enforcement agencies to investigate the incident.

The center said in a statement that it works closely with Canadian governments, police and national security officials and the private sector to help protect against cyber threats.

The center shares tips and guidance on cybersecurity best practices, threat bulletins on potential cyber risks, and warnings about potential compromised systems.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has also been informed of the breach.

Privacy Commissioner Michael Harvey was not available for an interview Thursday, but a spokesperson for his office said the government is committed to providing updated information on the breach as it becomes available.

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The office said public bodies must notify individuals and inform the OIPC of any privacy violations that could result in significant harm.

Government staff received an email on Wednesday night from Shannon Salter, head of the public service, informing them of the cybersecurity attack.

Farnworth said there is no indication that the cybersecurity breach is related to the hacking incident that hit retailer London Drugs, forcing it to close stores for more than a week.

Falcón said the government’s slow approach to releasing information contrasts sharply with the way London Drugs handled the cybersecurity incident, which informed customers within days of the cyberattack and provided regular updates.

However, London Drugs President Clint Mahlman apologized that his company did not release information until several days after the incident, saying that was the recommended approach to avoid giving influence to the attackers.

“Cybersecurity experts deal with these people all the time and as such, they see certain behaviors from certain threat actors,” he said.

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Mahlman said hackers look at media reports about cyberattacks and assess whether the company is aware of the scope of the breach and its ability to recover.

with files from The Canadian Press

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