Friday, March 10, 2017

CAF Deployed in Latvia to include ‘Cyber Warriors’

By: Matthew Fisher, The National Post 

Canada is to deploy “cyber warriors” to Latvia this June to defend its military computer networks and the information on them from sustained attacks by Russia, as a Canadian-led NATO battle group begins an open-ended deployment to the small, strategically important Baltic nation.

Canadian and Latvian soldiers in Kadaga, Latvia, during Operation Reassurance in September 2015.
Canadian and Latvian soldiers in Kadaga, Latvia, during Operation Reassurance in September 2015. (Cpl. Nathan Moulton -DND)
Separately, the Canadian Forces have been preparing the 450 troops bound for Latvia to act as a tripwire to deter Russian aggression to be ready to for a smear campaign orchestrated by the Kremlin to create tensions between them and their Latvian hosts, through the placement of “fake news” about their behaviour and about NATO’s motives in Central Europe.

The moves are part of a little-known plan to rapidly build Canada’s cyber and information warfare capabilities to counter threats, not only from Russia but adversaries such as Islamic State and al-Qaida.

“We definitely have to get it right. We have to go to Latvia with a strong defensive posture,” said Brig.-Gen. Paul Rutherford, commander of the newly created Joint Forces Cyber Component. “First and foremost, we recognize cyber as a domain of warfare.… We are constantly under attack.

“We will educate our troops about vulnerabilities, because Russia is quite adept in the cyber and information warfare domains.”

As well as defending against attempts to hack into military computer networks, troops had to be ready to defend against blatant disinformation in Latvia. This was underscored last month when bogus stories about German troops raping Lithuanian women began circulating on social and mainstream media within two weeks of the arrival of the German-led battle group.

“When you see how quickly it happened with the Germans, that shows us what to expect,” said Lt. Col. Richard Perreault, who recently returned from Latvia. “

Are they going to try? Yes they will. We fully expect such actions by the Russians.”

The Canadian approach in Latvia would be much different than Kandahar, “where we went in with a war mindset,” Perreault said. To counter Russian attempts to shape the narrative with false and deceptive information, “we will communicate facts and the truth,” the colonel said. “We will provide clear and transparent information. If we see inaccurate facts, we will take action.”

The danger posed by cyber attacks was of such crucial significance that the military was creating a new cyber trade specialty, Rutherford said.

“We want to bring people into the trade to become what I call cyber warriors,” the general said. “To retain these experts, we need a career path for the duration of their careers.

“That is what they eat and dream about and we need to do this for them. We want a breadth of cyber operators. We need analysts who can understand. We also need guys who understand the strengths and weaknesses of our systems and cyber intel. We have to invest heavily to ensure from a cyber perspective we can anticipate and bolster our defenses.”

Training, promoting and paying these soldiers enough that they will want to remain in the Forces was a top priority, as was the need to invest in cutting-edge technology for them, Rutherford said.

Like Ukraine, the Baltic states have been particularly susceptible to Russian propaganda and trolls because large Russian minorities there can easily tune in television stations from Moscow. The Lithuanian ambassador to the U.S. has said that “cooked” broadcasts from Russia were designed to turn his countrymen against NATO.

Russia’s cyber assaults first attracted intense attention when the Estonian parliament, banks and media were swamped and disabled in 2007 by massive amounts of electronic spam and malware. More recently, Russia was the sole suspect behind a cyber blitz that tried to shut down Ukraine’s power grid and banking system.

Moscow has also been accused of using cyber attacks to try to interfere in the U.S. presidential election and in impending European elections from Norway to Italy.

The Russian efforts were made plain this week with the revelation — never denied but hitherto unknown — that the grandfather of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland ran a pro-Nazi publication in Ukraine during the Second World War.

This is part of what Russia’s top general, Valeri Gerasimov, has called “hybrid warfare.” Cyberspace “opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy,” Gerasimov said in an article published four years ago.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is close to President Vladimir Putin, recently announced that a new military unit designed to conduct “information operations” was being created.

As U.S. forces in Afghanistan discovered, computer networks can be seriously compromised by something as simple as a soldier buying a USB stick outside the base gates for personal use that was infected with a virus.

“That is exactly what I am talking about,” Rutherford said. “From the electronic signature perspective, they must be highly educated.” he said. “They have to know how to use devices such as smart phones or to not bring them with them.”

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