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After seven long years of research and reporting, an American cyber-security firm Mandiant Corp released a detailed report this week describing the continuous threats and attacks by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) electronic intelligence units on American and allied companies and government departments. Of the 141 companies that were listed as having been victim to data theft, 115 of them in the U.S. were alleged to be at the hands of a Shanghai branch of the PLA’s “cyber command” known under a few different names including Unit 61398, APT1, or the Shanghai Group.

As Douglas Quan reports, Canada is also among the countries that are being targeted by this group of sophisticated hackers that is believed to be supported by a unit of the Chinese government. The report includes details about an attack last September on Calgary-based Telvent Canada, which provides IT systems for critical infrastructure.

The report released details that this particular group is considered responsible for stealing hundreds of terabytes of data since 2006, spanning 20 industries, for information like an organization’s technology blueprints, proprietary manufacturing processes, test results, business plans, pricing documents, partnership agreements, and emails and contact lists.

Even U.S. President Barack Obama weighed in last week during his state of the union address, stating, “"We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets...Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy."

So what is our government doing? Well, in fact, Premier Wall has supported the relationship that SaskTel has with Chinese-based Huawei, that is rumoured to have similar ties to the PLA. In fact, last October he stated that he was “very comfortable based on the agreement we have.”

SaskTel president and CEO, Ron Styles, stated that Huawei has been involved with the last two network builds the Crown Corporation has worked on, and fully supports the relationship with the Chinese-based company while dismissing warning from technology and security experts.

David Skillicorn, Internet security expert at Queen’s University stated “The Harper government is putting Canadian telecommunications companies at risk,” while former CSIS Director, Ray Boisvert stated the “Canadian government should block Huawei’s participation in building a new network for government data and communication.”

The report released this week by Mandiant also sheds light on something very threatening to Saskatchewan, in a time where infrastructure upgrades will be critical to our future success – the Chinese hackers are responsible for not only stealing technological and other information, but with obtaining the ability to manipulate or shut down critical infrastructure such as power grids, water supplies, air traffic control and pipelines.

Is this just the beginning of the “new” Saskatchewan opening our doors and computers to the Chinese government, and the risk that our entire telecommunications systems could be affected with the flip of a switch from overseas?

It’s time for the Saskatchewan Party government, and Premier Brad Wall to stand up for our province and insist that any ongoing relationships with Huawei, or any company that is a threat to our security and our future, is suspended indefinitely.

 

To download the Mandiant report, click here.

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