OTTAWA — Canada’s spy agency warns adversaries will turn to espionage and foreign interference tactics to target the country’s increasingly important artificial intelligence sector.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, in a newly released analytical letter, says countries like China and Russia can be expected to “track Canada’s AI through all available vectors” — from state-sponsored investments to deployments of covert agents.
The intelligence agency’s intelligence division, dubbed CSIS Eyes Only, completed its analysis in July 2021 but only recently released it to The Canadian Press in response to a request for access to information made in October of that year.
It’s the latest signal from intelligence agencies that Canada’s technological innovation and resulting economic advancement are vulnerable to foreign forces trying to co-opt or steal valuable research.
CSIS says emerging artificial intelligence capabilities and machine learning tools hold the key to developing ways to reduce plastic in the oceans, find a vaccine to treat the next looming pandemic, curb emissions that cause climate change, and Finding safe navigation methods for self-driving cars.
The analysis finds that artificial intelligence is a priority for Canada, considered central to Ottawa’s national innovation and prosperity goals.
“However, many other nations, including hostile state actors, have established their own national Al strategies and goals,” the brief said. “Some of these countries, notably China and Russia, will resort to espionage and foreign-influenced activities at Canada’s expense to advance their national interests.”
As a result, artificial intelligence has been reflected in federal intelligence priorities for several years, according to CSIS.
It notes that Canada faces two main types of threats related to artificial intelligence.
The first involves espionage and foreign interference in attempts to gain access to proprietary AI technology and know-how via trade (such as exports and reverse engineering), state-sponsored foreign investment, joint ventures (including technology transfer), cyberespionage, intelligence agents, insider Threats, talent scouting and recruitment.
“Many of these efforts are aimed at Canada’s colleges and vulnerable startups, which are responsible for most of our Al innovation but also represent a permissive spy environment.”
The second threat involves security risks for individual Canadians and the country’s armed forces if adversaries acquire and use AI capabilities for intelligence or military purposes.
Aaron Shull, managing director and general counsel at the Center for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario, said he agrees with CSIS’ assessment but would go further.
Shull cited other foreign threats in this area, including AI-powered cyberattacks that quickly find gaps in computer code, the use of facial recognition and surveillance by authoritarian regimes, automated bots that spread disinformation in cyberspace, and reliance on international supply chains that partially be controlled by opponents.
“I think we need a comprehensive review of our national security and intelligence capabilities and services, our legislative structures, and a more strategic view of where we want the country to be in 20 years,” Shull said in an interview.
Canada could then make the necessary investments and legislative changes to get there, he said.
“Other countries have their elbows up and are trying to take what is ours.”
According to CSIS, the importance of protecting Canada’s artificial intelligence and the big data that underpins it goes beyond protecting citizens’ privacy and includes “securing our nation’s future against the actions of hostile state actors intent on using their capabilities against us.” ”
The letter emphasizes the importance of big data for artificial intelligence, saying the more data a country possesses, the more it can be fed into that country’s AI systems, accelerating their capabilities, making better decisions faster and getting a head start on the competition secures.
“This will determine the victor in the modern world,” the brief said.
“All nations will find themselves in a grid ranging from ignorance to control, depending on how much data they have and how fast they can process it.”
The West faces “the threat of growing authoritarian dominance of the internet” from Beijing, given the high number of internet users in China and a government focused on achieving full and centralized collection and preservation of data, says CSIS.
“In addition, China is home to acres of data centers storing data from around the world, acquired both legally and illegally. This makes the data that China possesses valuable in both quantity and variety,” the letter adds.
“It’s safe to say that this gives China an advantage in the Al industry and subsequent decisions.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 22, 2023.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press