Canada could be the next target of the Russian GRU, warned the head of NATO

Russian GRU is suspected of carrying out a number of notable cyber attacks, including a concerted assault on the information systems of another Baltic state, Estonia, in 2007, cyber attacks on Lithuanian banks and an attack that knocked out power stations in Ukraine in 2016.

The head of NATO is urging Canada to be vigilant about the threat of Russian cyberwarfare both on the battlefield and at home.

There is a “clear and continuing danger” from “significant and sustained foreign interference” in Canadian public life, the chair of the country’s parliamentary intelligence oversight committee has told the British media BBC.

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Canadian troops in Latvia are being smeared by Russia-backed online propaganda aimed at undermining the alliance, and it may not be long before Canada sees similar tactics being waged within its borders.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan participate in a session at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017.

Canada has sent hundreds of soldiers to Latvia to lead a NATO battle group as part of an effort to curb Russian aggression in the Baltic states, and Stoltenberg said Russia seems to be pushing back against the alliance with a digital disinformation campaign.

Russian-linked social media accounts have been spreading false or misleading stories about Canadian soldiers, according to Stoltenberg, such as posts accusing them of bad behaviour or living on Latvia’s dime.

“We don’t believe that the way to respond to propaganda is by countering propaganda with propaganda,” Stoltenberg said in an interview on Saturday. “It is by providing facts, because we believe the truth will prevail.”

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said on Sunday that information warfare has long been a tool in global conflict, but the internet has given these disruption tactics a broader reach.

“These are types of things that were happening before there really was a social media,” Sajjan told reporters at the Halifax International Security Forum. “This is not new. This is a platform to elevate it for negative purposes.”

“The best way to defuse any type of fake news is to actually go reach out to the community,” Sajjan said. “Canadians are always going to do what they do best: Go out and build relationships.”

Stoltenberg said Russia’s apparent efforts to foment anti-NATO sentiment in Latvia have been unsuccessful, with polls suggesting that regional support for the alliance remains strong.

The interference takes a number of forms including targeting the electoral process, government decision-making, academic and media freedoms. Two countries, Russia and China, are singled out as responsible. Russia and China have always denied the allegations of interference.

The threat of foreign interference while real, was often hidden, the committee’s new report argues, pointing to a range of activities.

Fake Twitter Accounts Used in 2016 US Election

The Guardian newspaper reported that Twitter has admitted that more than 50,000 Russia-linked accounts used its service to post automated material about the 2016 US election – a far greater number than previously disclosed.

Announcing the discovery in a post to its website late on Friday, the company said the posts had reached at least 677,775 Americans, all of whom would be receiving a warning by email.

Twitter said it had removed the 50,258 accounts linked to Russia and turned over details to congressional investigators who are looking into Moscow’s interference with the US election campaign.

Cyber Attacks by GRU

Russian GRU is also suspected of carrying out a number of notable cyber attacks, including a concerted assault on the information systems of another Baltic state, Estonia, in 2007, and an attack that knocked out power stations in Ukraine in 2016.

A huge cyber-attack which knocked out more than 2,000 websites in the country of Georgia last year was carried out by Russia, according to Georgia, the UK and the US.

Some websites, such as that of TV channel Pirveli, were replaced with an image of former President Mikheil Saakashvili in the hack.

The UK government says that the GRU (Russian military intelligence) was behind the “attempt to undermine Georgia’s sovereignty”.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described it as “totally unacceptable”. Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied any involvement, the RIA news agency said.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) found that the GRU was “almost certainly” behind the attacks, which affected pages including Georgia’s presidential website and the country’s national TV broadcaster. It said the attack was the first significant example of GRU cyber-attacks since 2017.

Interference in Lithuanian Election

Reuters reported that Lithuania’s intelligence agencies fear Russia will interfere in its forthcoming elections, including one in May to find a successor to the staunchly anti-Kremlin president, Dalia Grybauskaite.

The Baltic state, ruled from Moscow for much of the 20th century but now a member of both the European Union and NATO, was rattled by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and hosts a German-led multinational battalion to deter any Russian invasion. It holds presidential, municipal and European Parliament elections this year and a parliamentary election in 2020.

“Russian intelligence will step up its activity during the 2019-2020 election cycle,” the agencies wrote in a joint annual assessment published on Tuesday. “It is possible that Russia will seek to sway the course of the elections by information and cyber means.”

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