Canadians use the Internet for financial transactions, to connect with friends and family, attend medical appointments and work. As Canadians spend more time and do more on the Internet, the opportunities grow for cyber threat activity to impact their daily lives. There’s been a rise in the amount of personal, business and financial data available online, making it a target for cyber threat actors. This trend towards connecting important systems to the Internet increases the threat of service disruption from cyber threat activity. Meanwhile, nation states and cybercriminals are continuing to develop their cyber capabilities. State-sponsored and financially motivated cyber threat activity is increasingly likely to affect Canadians. In NCTA 2023-24, we have chosen to focus on five cyber threat narratives that we judge are the most dynamic and impactful and that will continue to drive cyber threat activity to 2024.
- Ransomware is a persistent threat to Canadian organizations. Cybercrime continues to be the cyber threat activity most likely to affect Canadians and Canadian organizations. Due to its impact on an organization’s ability to function, ransomware is almost certainly the most disruptive form of cybercrime facing Canadians. Cybercriminals deploying ransomware have evolved in a growing and sophisticated cybercrime ecosystem and will continue to adapt to maximize profits.
- Critical infrastructure is increasingly at risk from cyber threat activity. Cybercriminals exploit critical infrastructure because downtime can be harmful to their industrial processes and the customers they serve. State-sponsored actors target critical infrastructure to collect information through espionage, to pre-position in case of future hostilities, and as a form of power projection and intimidation. However, we assess that state-sponsored cyber threat actors will very likely refrain from intentionally disrupting or destroying Canadian critical infrastructure in the absence of direct hostilities.
- State-sponsored cyber threat activity is impacting Canadians. We assess that the state-sponsored cyber programs of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea pose the greatest strategic cyber threats to Canada. State-sponsored cyber threat activity against Canada is a constant, ongoing threat that is often a subset of larger, global campaigns undertaken by these states. State actors can target diaspora populations and activists in Canada, Canadian organizations and their intellectual property for espionage, and even Canadian individuals and organizations for financial gain.
- Cyber threat actors are attempting to influence Canadians, degrading trust in online spaces. We have observed cyber threat actors’ use of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation (MDM) evolve over the past two years. Machine-learning enabled technologies are making fake content easier to manufacture and harder to detect. Further, nation states are increasingly willing and able to use MDM to advance their geopolitical interests. We assess that Canadians’ exposure to MDM will almost certainly increase over the next two years.
- Disruptive technologies bring new opportunities and new threats. Digital assets, such as cryptocurrencies and decentralized finance, are both targets and tools for cyber threat actors to enable malicious cyber threat activity. Machine learning has become commonplace in consumer services and data analysis, but cyber threat actors can deceive and exploit this technology. Quantum computing has the potential to threaten our current systems of maintaining trust and confidentiality online. Encrypted information stolen by threat actors today can be held and decrypted when quantum computers become available.
About this document
This document highlights the cyber threats facing individuals and organizations in Canada. It provides an update to the National Cyber Threat Assessment 2018 (NCTA 2018) and the National Cyber Threat Assessment 2020 (NCTA 2020), with analysis of the interim years and forecasts until 2024. We recommend reading the NCTA 2023-24 along with the updated Introduction to the Cyber Threat Environment and the tailored advice and guidance that we have released as companions to this assessment.
As envisioned in the National Cyber Security Strategy, we prepared this document to help Canadians shape and sustain our nation’s cyber resilience. It is only when the government, private sector and public work together that we can build resilience to cyber threats in Canada.
Limitations: This assessment does not provide an exhaustive list of all cyber threat activity in Canada or mitigation advice. As a threat assessment, the purpose of this document is to describe and evaluate the threats facing Canada. We focus on understanding the current cyber threat environment and how threat activity can affect Canadians and Canadian organizations. Cyber security guidance can be found on the Cyber Centre website and on the Get Cyber Safe website.
Sources: The key judgements in this assessment rely on reporting from multiple sources, both classified and unclassified. The judgements are based on the Cyber Centre’s knowledge and expertise in cyber security. Defending the Government of Canada’s information systems provides the Cyber Centre with a unique perspective to observe trends in the cyber threat environment, which also informs our assessment. CSE’s foreign intelligence mandate provides us with valuable insights into adversary behaviour in cyberspace. While we must always protect classified sources and methods, we provide the reader with as much justification as possible for our judgements.
Assessment process: Our cyber threat assessments are based on an analytical process that includes evaluating the quality of available information, exploring alternative explanations, mitigating biases and using probabilistic language. We use the terms “we assess” or “we judge” to convey an analytic assessment. We use qualifiers such as “possibly,” “likely,” and “very likely” to convey probability.