Canadian Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (CSTAC)

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HELP ENSURE TELECOM SERVICES ARE RESILIENT

 

Access to reliable telecommunications services, and by extension, ensuring secure telecommunications networks, is essential for Canadians. As part of Canada’s critical infrastructure, telecommunication networks are vital to the public’s health, safety, security and economic well-being.

Acts of theft, arson, and vandalism contribute to many service outages that affect telecommunications networks. Thieves have stolen copper wire, piping and other materials in hopes of selling these materials to scrap dealers to earn cash. In other cases, wireless towers have been set on fire based on the false understanding that 5G is dangerous to Canadians.

These acts are not victimless crimes and can have a serious impact on public health and safety. They disrupt emergency 9-1-1 and fire services, and adversely affect hospitals, schools and businesses.

Examples of damage to telecommunications infrastructure include:

  • An attempted copper theft in New Brunswick in November 2023, left Rogers customers in the Fredericton area without access to Internet, television and phone service for more than 12 hours. This criminal act committed by one person caused $20,000 in damages to the Rogers Communications infrastructure. The repairs to fibres required highly specialized and detailed work that was both expensive and time consuming.

  • In October 2023, vandals severed multiple Bell network lines outside Perth-Andover in New Brunswick, causing a massive impact on the network. Bell’s auto attendant service, an app that functions as an automated receptionist and that is used by the local hospital, was not working as a result of this crime. In addition, major businesses such as NB Power, JD Irving, the Government of New Brunswick, Canadian Tire and others were impacted alongside all of Bell’s Atlantic TV customers and many voice customers. There have been 886 physical security incidents, primarily copper theft, affecting Bell’s network since January 2022. Copper theft and vandalism accounted for 11 million customer outage minutes in 2023.

  • Bell has filed a lawsuit against an individual who stole copper telephone wire, causing 1,000 voice customers in Fredericton, New Brunswick to lose their telecommunications services, such as home phone, Internet and TV, for approximately 12 hours. Outages of this scale present a significant safety concern for Canadians, since communications networks are needed for everyday communications and to reach emergency services. Bell intends to pursue individuals and scrap metal businesses who knowingly purchase stolen copper in an attempt to curb future thefts.

  • Another cable damage event occurred in August 2023, where thieves stole TELUS cable in Calgary, Alberta, leaving 2,000 people without access to voice, Internet or TV services for multiple days.

  • In the first few months of 2024, TELUS experienced nine cable theft and vandalism events. January saw a 100% increase in incidents year-over-year with a 49% increase in outage duration. One of these events completely isolated two communities in British Columbia (BC) for over 14 hours. In February, there were five cable damage events due to theft, one of which isolated a community in BC for a day and a half.

On average, it takes 10 to 12 hours after each incident for telecommunications providers to fully restore services to their customers, though in some cases it takes significantly longer, particularly for complex repairs in hard-to-access locations. There have been instances where entire communities were left without telephone, wireless and Internet services for extended periods until repairs were completed.

These incidents also interfere with planned proactive maintenance and work to expand the network. Telecommunications providers must redirect teams of technicians away from scheduled work to perform these emergency repairs.

You can help your community stay connected by reporting crimes or suspicious activities that target telecommunications infrastructure to law enforcement authorities. If you wish to remain anonymous, please contact Crime Stoppers (1-800-222-TIPS) or online at www.canadiancrimestoppers.org, where you may be eligible to receive a cash reward.

The Canadian Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (CSTAC) allows the private and public sectors to exchange information and to collaborate strategically on current and evolving issues that may affect the telecommunications infrastructure, including cyber security threats.

CSTAC was established in 2010 to support two key Government of Canada initiatives—the National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure and Canada’s Cyber Security Strategy.

Canadians rely on the public telecommunications networks (PTN) for digital economies and social connections. The Canadian telecommunications infrastructure evolved from legacy circuit-switched to packet-based infrastructure. This change brought with it new risks in the cyber domain as well as complex infrastructure interdependencies both within and across all other critical infrastructure sectors. These risks, coupled with a global telecommunications equipment market, require government and industry to collaborate in adopting an all-hazards risk management approach to strengthen network resiliency.

Objectives
  • CSTAC objectives include:

    • establish a trusted public-private partnership to exchange information and facilitate the provision of advice to the Government of Canada on relevant matters of security and risk management
    • enable a common understanding and situational awareness of all-hazards affecting PTN security and resiliency
    • exchange information on approaches by other countries on the protection of critical infrastructure
    • exchange information with other Canadian critical infrastructure sector networks
    • work collaboratively to analyze, develop and implement measures to protect the critical telecommunications infrastructure
    • identify any gaps in accountabilities for critical infrastructure protection
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Membership

CSTAC membership includes senior level leadership within the federal government and the telecommunications industry.

Government members

Industry members

Canadian Telecom Resiliency (CTR) Working Group

The Canadian Telecom Resiliency (CTR) Working Group works with public and private sectors to collaborate and exchange information to coordinate and facilitate:

  • the development and implementation of policies, plans and measures to effectively deal with infrastructure interdependencies and their impact on the telecom industry and Canadian critical telecommunications infrastructure
  • the sharing of information and coordinating efforts to prepare for, respond to and recover from any incident or event impacting the Canadian critical telecommunications infrastructure
Canadian Telecommunication Cyber Protection (CTCP) Working Group

The Canadian Telecommunication Cyber Protection (CTCP) Working Group works to promote the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the Public Telecommunication Network as it may detect, protect, mitigate and recover from cyber attacks and Indicators of Compromise. There are four pillars that comprise the CTCP Working Group:

  • architecture
  • policy
  • operations
  • response

The CTCP works with other entities implicated in critical infrastructure sectors and with federal and provincial partners towards sustained and trusted collaboration.