Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is visiting Canada this week, after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Zelenskyy is expected to deliver a speech to Parliament on Friday, as well as visit Toronto, in what is his first trip to Canada since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The visit is seen as a sign of Canada’s strong support for Ukraine and its people, who are facing a brutal war of aggression from Russia. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Canada will continue to provide military, humanitarian, and diplomatic assistance to Ukraine, as well as advocate for its territorial integrity and sovereignty on the international stage.
Canada has been a fervent supporter of Ukraine since the onset of major hostilities, sending hundreds of troops, weapons, and equipment to help train and equip the Ukrainian armed forces. Canada has also imposed sanctions on Russian officials and entities, and joined the G7 initiative to provide Ukraine with long-term security assurances while it waits to join NATO.
Zelenskyy is likely to ask for additional military support from Canada, as well as urge the Canadian government and public to not succumb to war fatigue and to remain united and steadfast in their opposition to Russia. Zelenskyy has said that Russia’s goal is to turn Ukraine’s land, people, resources, and lives into a weapon against the West, and that each decade, Russia starts a new war.
However, Zelenskyy’s visit to Canada may also have unintended consequences, as it could provoke cyberattacks from pro-Russian groups or state-sponsored hackers. In recent months, Canada has witnessed a surge of cyberattacks targeting its critical infrastructure, government websites, and private sector organizations. Some of these attacks have been attributed to Russian actors, who may be seeking to disrupt, damage, or steal information from Canada as a way of retaliating for its support of Ukraine.
For example, on September 14, several government websites in four provinces and territories were shut down, with at least two jurisdictions blaming cyberattacks for their outages. The websites of Yukon, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, and Nunavut were all inaccessible throughout the day. P.E.I. and Yukon said cyberattacks were behind their shutdowns, while Manitoba said its interruption was due to network and server infrastructure issues. Nunavut did not comment on the cause of its outage.
The cyberattacks used the denial-of-service tactic, in which the target website is flooded with too many requests, overwhelming its systems and preventing legitimate users from accessing it. Such attacks do not normally steal data, but they can cause significant disruption and inconvenience, as well as hide other malicious activities.
Another example of a cyberattack that affected Canada was the hack of Air Canada’s employee data, which the airline admitted on September 21. The airline said that an unauthorized group briefly obtained limited access to an internal system related to limited personal information of some employees and certain records. The airline did not say when the incident happened or how much data was accessed, but it said that it contacted the parties whose information was involved, as well as the relevant authorities. The airline also said that its flight operations systems and customer-facing systems were not affected, and that it implemented further enhancements to its security measures.
It is not clear if the hack of Air Canada was related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it is possible that the airline was targeted because of its role in transporting Canadian troops and equipment to Ukraine, as well as evacuating Ukrainian citizens and refugees from the war zone. Air Canada has been one of the main carriers involved in the airlift operations, along with other NATO allies.
Cybersecurity experts have warned that Canada’s critical infrastructure, such as energy, transportation, health, and finance, is vulnerable to cyberattacks, and that the country needs to invest more in its cyber defenses and resilience. They have also urged the government and the private sector to share information and collaborate on best practices and solutions, as well as to raise awareness and educate the public on cyber threats and how to protect themselves.
Zelenskyy’s visit to Canada is an important opportunity to strengthen the bilateral relations and the strategic partnership between the two countries, as well as to demonstrate solidarity and support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and democracy. However, it may also increase the risk of cyberattacks from Russia or its proxies, who may seek to undermine Canada’s security and interests. Canada needs to be prepared and vigilant, and to take proactive and preventive measures to protect its cyberspace and its citizens.