Public Sector Future Podcast | Episode 59: Modernizing National Approaches to Cybersecurity

Episode 59 guest speaker Sami Khoury

Modernizing National Approaches to Cybersecurity

with Sami Khoury

Sami Khoury is the Head of the Canadian Government’s Centre for Cyber Security, Canada’s technical authority on cyber security.

Episode summary

Sami Khoury is the Head of the Canadian Government’s Centre for Cyber Security. As Canada’s technical authority on cyber security, the team use their expertise to keep safe the information and systems that Canadians rely on, to protect and defend the country’s cyber assets and to lead Canada’s federal response to cybersecurity events.

Modernizing National Approaches to Cybersecurity: A Conversation with Sami Khoury, Canadian Centre for Cyber Security

In the latest Public Sector Future podcast, guest host Alvaro Vitta meets Sami Khoury, Head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security. Their conversation delves into pressing issues in the cybersecurity realm, including the challenges faced by government and critical infrastructure organizations, the evolving threat landscape, and the role of generative AI in cybersecurity.

In the most recent episode of the Public Sector Future podcast, guest host Alvaro Vitta, meets Sami Khoury, Head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security. Their discussion explores pertinent topics in cybersecurity, encompassing the unique obstacles encountered by government and critical infrastructure organizations, the ever-changing threat landscape, and the impact of generative AI on cyber threats.  

Khoury began by introducing the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security and its role in safeguarding Canada against cyber threats. Established in 2018 as part of the National Cybersecurity Strategy, the Centre extends its expertise to support all of Canada. Khoury emphasized their proactive approach, offering advice, guidance, and capabilities to defend against cyber threats.

Understanding the global landscape of cyber threats against governments and critical infrastructure 

Vitta highlighted a pressing concern from the recently released Microsoft Digital Defense Report: the alarming increase in cyber threat activity against governments and critical infrastructure organizations worldwide. Khoury shared, “We have been warning about that in our National Cyber Threat Assessment document that we’ve put out in 2018, 2020 and 2022, that nation-state [attacks] continues to pose a strategic threat to Canada, but that also they are targeting critical infrastructure.”  

Khoury outlined that the heightened intensity of these cyber threats can be attributed to a variety of factors, including geopolitical tensions. The concept of pre-positioning has been a notable concern, as emphasized in various advisories, including the Joint Cyber Security Advisory with CISA.  

Khoury shared that the motivations behind these cyber-attacks may encompass traditional espionage, intellectual property theft, and the pursuit of economic information or business intelligence. The evolving sophistication of these cyber threats is further exacerbated by the increasing interconnectedness of our global landscape.  

He highlighted that the sophistication of nation-sponsored cyber threats emphasizes the need for innovation and sophistication in defensive capabilities to counter these adept adversaries. “We have to be imaginative, innovative, and fairly sophisticated ourselves in our defensive capability because we have to defend ourselves against those sophisticated threats.”

Addressing persistent threats and enhancing public-private partnerships 

Khoury noted the persistence of nation-state actors as a major challenge, as they relentlessly pursue targets of strategic interest, necessitating continuous vigilance and a thorough understanding of evolving threat landscapes and adversary interests.

He underscored the Centre’s primary mission of safeguarding the Canadian government, through a multi-layered defense approach, while emphasizing the need to extend support beyond the government to various communities, encouraging incident reporting and vigilance. By fostering a two-way information flow, sharing information, and publishing IOCs and advisories, the Centre actively engages businesses to enhance their cyber defenses and collective cybersecurity resilience. He explained, “We need to reach out to all sorts of communities out there. We need to encourage them to report incidents to us, big or small, to be vigilant.” 

Guidance for modernizing National Cybersecurity Centers 

In offering guidance to nations looking to modernize their national cybersecurity centers, Khoury emphasized adaptability, persistent engagement, and effective communication tailored to various audiences. He stressed the importance of being agile in response to evolving threats and fostering a continuous learning mindset to tackle present and future challenges effectively.

Khoury highlighted key aspects in building successful partnerships across the public and private sectors, including staying at the forefront of technology. He explained “We have to be on top of our technology. We have to be leading by example, and it’s very important that when we put out advice and guidance of our technology, that we demonstrate that that advice and guidance also applies to us.”  He emphasized the value of sharing knowledge and tools, often developed in-house using an open-source model and shared on GitHub, promoting transparency and collaboration.

Khoury also stressed the importance of partnership, citing a successful collaboration with Microsoft and engaging in hackathons and events with the private sector to embrace the latest technological innovations. The focus is on being well-versed in both modern and legacy technologies to address security concerns promptly. Overall, the approach centers on sharing expertise and fostering a collaborative environment.

Navigating the technological landscape and Generative AI

Khoury acknowledged the dual nature of AI advancements, presenting both opportunities and risks, noting its exploitation by cybercriminals for crafting sophisticated phishing emails. “Cyber criminals are using some of these capabilities to craft very sophisticated, very well-authored phishing emails. You can interact with many of those engines to craft an email that is well tweaked, or well-tuned to the person to whom you want to send it to. And it will be written very well, very eloquently.” He highlighted the necessity of cautious adoption, risk assessment, and continuous exploration of practical risks associated with generative AI capabilities. Collaboration and sharing knowledge were emphasized to collectively mitigate these evolving risks. Khoury underscored the significance of partnerships in cybersecurity, acknowledging the diverse mandates and domestic realities of different countries while advocating for collaborative initiatives to combat cybersecurity threats on a global scale. 

Inspiration through global collaboration 

Finally, Khoury commended the importance of partnerships and international collaboration. He cited collaborations with countries like the U.S. and the UK, underscoring the collective effort needed to tackle cybersecurity challenges. He stressed that in such partnerships, each nation augments the other’s capabilities, creating a stronger defense against cyber threats. 

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