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Technology Ottawa’s top cybersecurity official: Canada has ‘layers’ to protect against Huawei threat

The federal government’s top cybersecurity official says Canada has “layers” of protections to deal with potential security threats, as he pushed back against claims Canada could be exposed to espionage if China’s Huawei is not barred from next-generation 5G wireless networks.

Scott Jones, the head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, told a Toronto audience on Tuesday that federal and private-sector analysts have the capacity to work together to stave off all manner of threats.

“A lot of details aren’t known by folks, and all the different layers we’ve put into the security model. And so that’s something that we are trying to bring a little bit more visibility towards,” Mr. Jones said after delivering a keynote speech at a cybersecurity conference.

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Scott Jones, head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, looks on during an announcement on the National Cyber Security Strategy on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on June 12, 2018.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

In September, The Globe and Mail revealed the federal government has, for five years, secretly been running security tests on telecommunication equipment sold to Canadian corporations by Huawei. The Chinese company, the world’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment and the No. 3 smartphone supplier, helps pay for these tests in “white labs,” where independent analysts look for any hidden interception capabilities built into that equipment.

Mr. Jones said he was limited in how much he could say publicly, but said the labs are only “a single element" in the process.

Washington has been putting pressure on Canada, Britain and New Zealand to join the United States and Australia in banning Huawei from supplying equipment for the Canadian 5G network, the next generation of telecom gear. The countries are part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance. On Monday, The Globe reported that senior U.S. intelligence officials are skeptical of Canada’s ability to find threats within Huawei equipment.

Under Chinese law, companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work.” Security experts in the United States and Canada warn that equipment produced by firms such as Huawei could be compromised on behalf of China’s ruling party.

Canada and Britain are currently trying to blunt threats by testing Huawei equipment for potential bugs.

Canada’s core defensive work will now fall to the cyber centre, which will be housed within the Communications Security Establishment, a federal intelligence agency that has overseen the tests of Huawei equipment since 2013. The centre will give government cybersecurity experts a much bigger profile and capacity for private-sector partnerships, according to Mr. Jones.

“Together with our partners in the telecommunications companies, we have found better ways to collectively increase our security,” Mr. Jones said.

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Mr. Jones said that today’s cyber threats go well beyond gear.

“If anyone here believes security is about a single piece of equipment, I have an e-mail from a Nigerian prince who is offering you millions, a call from a robot saying ‘You owe a bunch of money to the taxman,’ and [a message saying] ‘If you just download this software from a link I’m providing you I can fix your computer remotely.’ ”​

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