(Adds Chinese reaction, paragraphs 4, 10-11; background)
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, July 29 Canada on Tuesday took the
unusual step of singling out Chinese hackers for attacking a key
computer network and lodged a protest with Beijing, raising
tensions at a time when Ottawa wants to boost oil sales to
Officials said "a highly sophisticated Chinese
state-sponsored actor" had recently broken into the National
Research Council. The council, the government's leading research
body, works with major companies such as aircraft and train
maker Bombardier Inc.
Canada has reported hacking incidents before, but this was
the first time it had singled out China.
China is often cited as a suspect in various hacking attacks
on companies in the United States and other countries. Beijing
dismissed the allegation as groundless.
Foreign Minister John Baird had "a full and frank exchange
of views" about the case with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
during a meeting in Beijing on Tuesday, a spokesman for Baird
"The government takes this issue very seriously, and we are
addressing it at the highest levels in both Beijing and Ottawa,"
said spokesman Adam Hodge.
Corinne Charette, Canada's chief government information
officer, said that although research council computers did not
operate within the overall government system, they had been
isolated as a precautionary measure.
"We have no evidence that data compromises have occurred on
the broader government of Canada network," she said in a
Separately, the council said it was working to set up a new
secure network, which could take as long a year to build.
Yang Yundong, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Ottawa,
said Beijing was not involved in cyber attacks.
"It is neither professional nor responsible to make
groundless speculations and accusations on cyber attacks for
various purposes," he said.
Canada's right-leaning Conservative government has had an
uneven relationship with Beijing since taking power in 2006.
Citing human rights concerns, Prime Minister Stephen Harper
initially kept his distance. Under pressure from business in
Canada, he reached out to Beijing.
Harper visited three Chinese cities in early 2012 and
promised to help increase oil exports, citing the need to find
new markets. The United States buys virtually all Canada's
The research council attack was not the first hacking
attempt in Canada that has been linked to China.
In 2011, hackers broke into computer systems at the finance
ministry and other government departments. The Conservatives
denied to comment on allegations that China was responsible.
In 2012, Canada said it was aware hackers had breached
security at a domestic manufacturer of software used by energy
companies but again declined to say whether it felt China lay
behind the attacks.
The latest annual report from the Canadian Security
Intelligence Service spy agency devotes a section to cyber
security but does not mention China. Neither does Canada's
official cyber security strategy.
Other nations have been less shy. The U.S. Department of
Justice has charged a Chinese businessman with hacking into the
computer systems of Boeing and other companies.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Andrea Ricci and