Friday, May 24, 2013

Few businesses appear ready to defend themselves from cybercrime, report finds

Few companies may be ready to handle an attack from criminals lurking in cyberspace, and fewer know about the government’s three-year-old cyber-security efforts, according to a national study.

The study’s authors concluded that results, while only a small snapshot of the millions of businesses big and small in Canada, point to gaps in how companies protect themselves from cybercrime, a finding that could be chalked up to little monetary damage to companies that fall victim to hackers.

The cost of cybercrime to those businesses that fell victim to an attack was low, on average about $14,000 per incident, according to the companies surveyed. Cybercrime victims also reported little effects on their business reputation, according to the study from the International Cyber Security Protection Alliance, a non-profit group based in the U.K.

Experts suggest that financial-effect figures may have to rise dramatically before small- and medium-sized businesses beef up their IT defences, since few appear ready to defend themselves from attackers.

The study released Wednesday found that of the businesses surveyed, about 70 per cent had no procedure in place to deal with a successful hack and only 22 per cent actually looked to identify where they were most vulnerable.

“We don’t have the right alerts and alarms … to tell us what’s wrong,” said Ken Taylor, the group’s North American president.

There was even less awareness of the government’s cyber-security strategy, with about seven per cent of respondents aware of the document that was released in 2010, and about 12 per cent aware of the government’s cybercrime prevention campaigns.

Companies were also three times more likely to turn to a private company than to the government for cybercrime help.

According to the survey, businesses appear to want the government to follow the strategy already being followed: Build awareness of the threats in cyberspace, but leave it to businesses to protect themselves.

However, with no benchmark for what levels of security companies should employ, preparedness is “all over the map,” Taylor said. Government and businesses, he said, need to define what should be done to secure private and public systems.

“Our country has done what other countries in the G20 have done, but that (strategy) is the first stage,” Taylor said in an interview. “There has to be a metric, a benchmark. … This is a shared responsibility.”

Of the 520 businesses surveyed in the national study, 69 per cent reported some kind of digital attack against them in the previous 12 months, with one-quarter saying the attack had “considerable” effects on their business. In total, companies surveyed reported a total of 5,866 attacks against them over the previous 12 months.

The majority of respondents believed senior managers treat cybercrime incidents seriously, but that finding may be a result of reporting bias because the people answering questions were senior managers themselves.

As well, the study found that most companies reported that less than one-fifth of cyber-attacks caused any reputational damage.

The telephone survey of 520 companies across Canada touched on companies in six industries — financial services, airlines and shipping, telecommunications, critical infrastructure, aerospace and defence, and retail — and companies with revenues from under $1 million up to more than $100 million.

The survey was conducted between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15, 2012, and is accurate to within 4.38 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Oliver to defend oil sands during visit to Europe

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is in Europe this week to fight proposed legislation he says discriminates against the oil sands and could damage the reputation of Canadian energy products around the world.

The European Union’s controversial “fuel quality directive” requires a 6% reduction in the greenhouse gas intensity of vehicle fuels by 2020. Intensity levels are calculated based on the entire life cycle of the fuel, meaning emissions from the extraction, processing and distribution of the product are included in the final number.

Under the EU formula, oil sands “natural bitumen feedstock” is assigned a greenhouse gas value 22% higher than conventional crude oils. Oliver — who will be making the federal government’s case in Paris, Brussels, and London this week — said that figure is arbitrary and unscientific.

“We have no problem at all — in fact, we support — a policy that has as its objective the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the use of hydrocarbons for transportation. However, we think it has to be fair and effective, and the directive as it is currently drafted is fundamentally flawed,” Oliver told the Calgary Herald on Sunday.

The European Council — the EU body that represents individual countries — was originally set to vote on the directive in June 2012. But after intense lobbying by Canada as well as the European oil industry, it delayed the decision to conduct an impact assessment first.

A decision is now expected sometime this year, possibly as late as fall.

While Canada does not currently export oil to Europe, Oliver said he’s afraid of the message that will be sent if Europe’s leaders essentially declare oil sands product to be “dirty” oil.

“What we don’t want is to see our oil stigmatized and potentially hurt our other markets,” he said. “What we don’t want is to somehow see our oil labelled in a negative way.”

Oliver said Canada is being unfairly targeted in part because it is transparent about its greenhouse gas emissions. He said some other oil-producing nations that don’t have strong regulatory and oversight systems are simply assigned an “average” value under the EU formula.

He also said the EU formula appears to go easy on countries that are major oil suppliers for Europe by allowing all types of crude oil — including heavy crudes that Oliver said have similar emissions to oil sands crudes — to be bundled into one “conventional crude” category.

But while Oliver hopes his trip will convince European business and government leaders of the legislation’s flaws, environmental think-tank the Pembina Institute said the fuel quality directive’s science is correct.

A Pembina Institute paper on the topic published last year states that on average, oil sands production produce significantly higher emissions than conventional crude oils.

“The life cycle GHG emissions intensity of oil sands ranges from around 12 to 40% higher than the average intensity of conventional fuels used by Europeans,” the paper’s authors write. “Given this clear distinction, the treatment of ‘natural bitumen’ as a separate feedstock is well justified.”

The Alberta government has also taken up the fight in defence of the oil sands. Alberta’s International and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Cal Dallas and Environment Minister Diana McQueen were in Europe at the end of January to talk about the issue, and Alberta’s U.K. trade office manager will be in Brussels this week to get an update on the EU fuel quality directive.

“Every opportunity we get we’re certainly articulating an Alberta perspective and why we see compelling reasons that the fuel quality directive requires modification to properly position an issue that on principle we support — around lowering the carbon footprint and the like,” Dallas said. “It’s just the fact that it positions itself to unfairly treat oil sands product or bitumen. We’ve had some good conversations in Europe and we continue to do that.”

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Canada 'train-plot' duo vow to defend

Two suspects in an alleged al-Qaeda-backed plot to derail a Canadian passenger train have challenged the case against them.

In a Montreal court, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, said the case against him was based only on "appearances".

A lawyer for Raed Jaser, 35, said he would "defend himself vigorously", outside his hearing in Toronto, RTHK reports.

Officials said the alleged plot had support from al-Qaeda in Iran, although there was no sign of state sponsorship.

Canadian authorities said the two suspects were arrested in Montreal and Toronto on Monday.

Jaser is understood to be a United Arab Emirates national of Palestinian origin, though his lawyer points out he is a permanent Canadian resident who has lived there 20 years.

Esseghaier is thought to be of Tunisian origin. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Feds defend efforts to find terrorists

Canada has done well to keep young people off the "path to radicalization," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Tuesday amid surprising revelations about the background of two disaffected Ontario men who reportedly played key roles in January's deadly terrorist siege in Algeria.

Canadian security agencies, with the help of religious groups, have successfully staged numerous interventions as part of "our containment strategy . . . on domestic radicalization," Kenney told a news conference in Vancouver.

His remarks followed a CBC News report that identified the two Canadians involved in January's deadly terrorist attack at an isolated Algerian gas plant: Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas, two high school friends from London, Ont.

Neither Kenney, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and the RCMP would comment directly on the report.

But Kenney expounded on the growing threat of homegrown terrorism in Canada, Western Europe and the United States. Police and the Canada Security Intelligence Service often get involved and prevent problems before they happen, he said.

"Frequently, for example, when information is obtained about perhaps a young Canadian who is on the path towards radicalization, often there's an intervention," he said.

During a conference call Tuesday from the United Arab Emirates, Baird was peppered with questions about the report - particularly about why the federal government had not been more forthcoming about the case.

"Our intelligence services, our law enforcement agencies have been doing some important work and I think it's best if I refer you to them for further comment," Baird said.

The RCMP says its investigation into Canadian involvement in the attack continues but is refusing to comment further.

CBC said CSIS began asking questions about Medlej and Kat-siroubas after a family member contacted authorities in 2007 with concerns about the pair.

Muslim leaders at the mosque in London that was reportedly attended by Katsiroubas - a former Greek Orthodox who converted to Islam - held a news conference Tuesday to distance their community from the attacks.

Munir El-Kassem said no one he has talked to in the community seems to know either man or their families. Their reported actions should not reflect on Islam nor on London, El-Kassem said.

"When something like this happens that puts a religious identity on a terrorist attack we should all come together to denounce that and say faith and terrorism is an oxymoron," he said.

"They do not exist together."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Canadian military bracing for major cuts in Conservative’s 2013 federal budget

It seems the only soldiers who are safe from the coming budget axe are those that parade around Parliament Hill in the changing of the guard ceremony for tourists in the summer, a leaked report suggests.

Defence spending will be in the federal budget crosshairs this week as the Canadian Army faces another barrage of major reductions over and above the Harper government’s established deficit-fighting strategy and program review.

An army planning document, obtained by The Canadian Press, shows that land forces are bracing for a further eight per cent hit on operating and maintenance in the coming fiscal plan, in addition to an existing 22 per cent budget reduction.

The latest cuts, estimated in the range of $32 million, will slice into the army’s ability to train for operations in the jungle, desert and mountains, and come on top of $226 million in cuts ordered in the government’s strategic review and Deficit Reduction Action Plan, says a Jan. 31, 2013 document, written by Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin.

There’s expected to be an $8 million clawback on contracted services, and the army will be required to absorb a further $10 million related to civilian wages.

The document says funding for full-time reservists will have to be further reduced, and unused cash in the budget for part-time soldiers may have to be raided in order to keep full-timers.

Yet, despite the budget ravages, the army is under pressure to maintain the pet projects and pageantry admired by the Conservatives, who once promised stable and predictable funding.

“Ceasing activities viewed as priorities by the government of Canada will invite scrutiny into those activities the Army chooses to do at the expense of those items that hold government interest,” said the letter, which is meant to guide the army’s business planning for the coming year.

“As an example, activities such as the Ceremonial Guard hold particular interest for the (government of Canada) and must be sustained; even at the expense of area programming. Any and all (government of Canada) directed activities will be fulfilled.”

The Ceremonial Guard, comprised of mostly reserve members, conducts the changing of the guard ceremony on Parliament Hill during the tourist season.

National Defence is the biggest discretionary line item in the federal budget and has long been the target for deficit-slashing governments, regardless of political stripe.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Defence Minister Peter MacKay last June that initial budget cut proposals did not go deep enough on the administrative side of the department, a message he reinforced at the swearing-in of new defence chief Gen. Tom Lawson when he said he wanted a military with
“more teeth and less tail.”

When criticized about how spending cuts appear to have singled out the army, MacKay has pointed out that the army’s baseline budget is $500 million higher than it was when the Conservatives took office in 2006.

“After years of unprecedented growth, and following the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan, it is necessary for the government to balance military needs with taxpayer interests,” said MacKay spokesman Jay Paxton.

“Under our government, the military will always have the tools it needs to defend Canada and care for its people.”

Defence sources say as much as $600 million will be cut out of military “readiness” in all branches in the coming year. Readiness refers to training and equipment maintenance that a military needs to do in order to deploy both overseas and at home.

Indeed, Devlin’s planning report says the army will have to limit the scope of its operations in the Arctic, which is “five to seven times” more expensive than missions conducted in southern Canada.

The average 1.5 per cent increase in the army’s budget for fuel comes nowhere near covering the anticipated diesel costs, which rose by 24 per cent in 2011-12. As consequence, the army will have to “reduce the level of activity.”

In a recent interview with Maclean’s magazine, MacKay revealed that department intends to sell surplus property, some of which is either outdated or too costly to maintain.

Analyst Dave Perry from Carleton University in Ottawa has crunched the overall defence budget numbers and projected, in an updated analysis to be released this week, that the department will lose $2.4 billion — about 12.4 per cent — of its approximately $20-billion budget when compared against spending in 2011-12.

In his benchmark report, retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie called for deep cuts in the size of National Defence headquarters and for the savings to be plowed back into the field force.

But Perry’s analysis shows that since the government will not cut the overall size of the regular or reserve forces, and is not expected to give up equipment capabilities, such as specific classes of planes, tanks and ships, there is nowhere else to cut except in readiness and training.

“Since the size of the regular Forces is the largest driver of overall personnel spending, and major capital fleets account for the bulk of capital equipment fleets, this essentially protected the two single largest spending categories from the budget reduction,” Perry wrote in his analysis, obtained in advance by The Canadian Press.

“As a result, the department has been tasked with finding the majority of its cuts from the funds spent on (operations and maintenance).”

Leslie’s report has gone largely ignored, he said.

“DND has taken almost no action to enact his recommendations,” Perry said. “As a result, the bulk of the budget cuts are falling on operational readiness and training.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wall Street ends slightly higher, Dow near a record

Stocks closed modestly higher on Tuesday, putting the Dow within striking distance of an all-time high, as investors looked ahead to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.

Investors will be listening to Obama's speech for any clues on a deal with Republicans to avert automatic spending cuts due to take effect March 1. The tone of the speech will also be scrutinized, with any sign of compromise likely to be warmly received.

The S&P 500 has risen for the past six weeks, putting it up 6.5 percent so far this year, while the Dow is about 1 percent away from its all-time closing record of 14,164.53, reached in October 2007.

But gains have been harder to come by since the S&P hit a five-year high on February 1. Daily moves have been small and trading volume light as investors search for new reasons to drive stocks higher.

About 5.73 billion shares changed hands on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and NYSE MKT on Tuesday, below the daily average so far this year of about 6.48 billion shares.

"We're likely to settle in for a period and digest the gains we've had, though there's still a bias towards positive momentum," said Eric Teal, chief investment officer at First Citizens Bancshares in Raleigh, North Carolina.

"Questions over government spending are the big overhang, and we're looking for Obama to inspire some confidence over that tonight."

The White House has signaled Obama will urge investment in infrastructure and clean energy, suggesting companies in those sectors may be volatile in Wednesday's session.

"Gun makers could also see a reaction if Obama talks about anything with respect to gun control," said Teal, who helps oversee $5 billion. Shares of Smith & Wesson (SWHC.O) fell 2 cents to $9.11 while Sturm Ruger (RGR.N) was up 0.4 percent at $53.91.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 47.46 points, or 0.34 percent, at 14,018.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX was up 2.42 points, or 0.16 percent, at 1,519.43. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was down 5.51 points, or 0.17 percent, at 3,186.49.

Housing shares were among the strongest of the day, led by a 12.5 percent jump in Masco Corp (MAS.N) to $20.02 after the home improvement product maker said it expects new home construction to show strong growth in 2013. The PHLX housing sector index .HGX rose 3.7 percent.

Avon Products Inc (AVP.N) surged 20 percent to $20.79 as the S&P 500's top percentage gainer after the cosmetics company reversed sales declines and cut costs.

On the downside, Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) fell 2.7 percent to $37.56 and was the biggest drag on the Dow after reporting revenue below estimates, hurt by a weaker-than-expected performance in Europe.

Michael Kors Holdings (KORS.N) shares jumped 8.8 percent to $62.04 after the fashion company handily beat Wall Street's estimates and raised its full-year outlook.

With earnings season starting to wind down, Thomson Reuters data through Tuesday morning shows of the 353 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results, 70.3 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.

Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 5.3 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.

About 62 percent of stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange closed higher while 59 percent of Nasdaq-listed shares closed in positive territory.