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CIBC among top brands used in phishing attacks: security firm

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The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is one of the most commonly targeted brands used by cyberthieves in phishing attacks across North America, with a more than 600 per cent surge in fake email attempts in the third quarter, according to analysis by an email security firm.

Vade Secure’s research shows that during that period CIBC was the lone Canadian company among the top 25 brands used by cybercriminals trying to trick people into handing over their credentials and confidential data, according to the France-based company’s engine.

The Toronto-based bank was ranked 25th and used in an average of 5.3 new phishing links per day during the third quarter, an increase of more than 622 per cent from the previous quarter, the analysis showed.

The email security firm’s chief executive Adrien Gendre said each of these links, which typically mimic official webpages, can be sent to thousands of users.

Launch of Simplii could be a factor

It’s unclear what is behind the surge in phishing activity, but one factor could be CIBC’s launch of its Simplii Financial direct banking brand last year, Gendre said. When users are less familiar with what interactions to expect, they are easier to deceive with a fake email, he said.

“Every new service, it’s a good target for phishing … People will click more on it,” Gendre said.

Vade Secure, based in Lille, France, protects more than 500 million inboxes, and its conclusions were based on the phishing attacks detected by its artificial-intelligence powered platform.

CIBC said “cyber security is an evolving space that we monitor closely.”

“We have multiple layers of security in place and continuously invest to safeguard our clients,” spokesman Tom Wallis wrote in an emailed statement.

The email security firm’s analysis comes as Canadian banks continue ramp up their spending on technology, including cybersecurity defences, and months after BMO and Simplii said that thousands of customers may have had personal and financial data compromised.

Data breaches lead to waves of phishing, malware attacks

In May, BMO said hackers contacted the bank claiming to be in possession of the personal data of fewer than 50,000 customers, and that the attack originated outside of Canada. At the same time, Simplii also warned that “fraudsters” may have accessed certain personal and account information for about 40,000 clients.

A leak of user data is often followed by a wave of phishing attacks or a malware attack months later, Gendre said.

A few years ago, grammatical errors or language mistakes would easily signal that it was fraudulent, but now these fake webpages are often indistinguishable from the real thing, Gendre added.

The three top targets in North American phishing attacks during the third quarter were Microsoft, PayPal and Netflix, but other large Canadian banks were also among the 86 brands tracked by Vade Secure.

Bank of Montreal was in 33rd place with phishing activity up 317.5 per cent from the previous quarter, followed by Scotiabank in 47th place with activity up 53.1 per cent. Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank saw a drop in phishing activity, down 91 per cent and 57.6 per cent from the previous quarter, respectively, to put them in the 49th and 62nd spots.

However, during the second quarter, RBC was in the 21st spot with an 767.3 per cent increase in phishing links, according to Vade Secure.

Gendre said cyberthieves typically cycle through different targets, switching to a new one as users become aware of the fake links and their attacks become less efficient.

RBC’s vice-president of cyber operations and chief information officer Adam Evans said that as the bank increases its global footprint it becomes a bigger target for phishing attacks, but it has layers of security to protect against these kinds threats. The bank has also been increasing its cyber security budget and investing in technologies to mitigate this threat, he added.

“Organizations that have a global footprint are going to be targeted more often and probably more frequently over time,” he said.

BMO, Scotiabank and TD Bank did not respond to requests for comment.



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After facing near extinction, mountain gorilla population grows

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There are more gorillas in the mist — a rare conservation success story, scientists say.

After facing near-extinction, mountain gorillas are slowly rebounding. On Wednesday, the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature updated mountain gorillas’ status from “critically endangered” to “endangered,” a more promising, if still precarious, designation. There are now just over 1,000 of the animals in the wild.

“In the context of crashing populations of wildlife around the world, this is a remarkable conservation success,” said Tara Stoinski, president and chief scientist of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

Fossey, shown in Washington, on Sept. 24, 1970, 15 years before her death, had projected that gorillas may be extinct by 2000, but their populations have been increasing thanks to conservation efforts. (Associated Press)

The Atlanta-based non-profit is named for the primate researcher whose work helped draw international attention to mountain gorillas and whose memoir became the basis for the 1988 Sigourney Weaver film Gorillas in the Mist.

“This is a beacon of hope — and it’s happened in recently war-torn and still very poor countries,” said Stoinski, also a member of the IUCN’s primate specialist group, which recommended the status change.

Making progress

Mountain gorillas live in lush and misty forests along a range of dormant volcanoes in east Africa. Their habitat falls inside national parks spanning parts of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Fossey, who died in 1985, had projected that the primates may be extinct by 2000. Instead, their populations have been slowly increasing thanks to sustained and well-funded international conservation efforts.

A baby mountain gorilla rides on its mother’s back on the slopes of Mount Mikeno in the Virunga National Park, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Peter Andrews/Reuters)

“We have made progress in terms of their protection, in terms of allowing an environment where mountain gorillas can continue to thrive and grow,” said Anna Behm Masozera, director of the International Gorilla Conservation Program, based in Kigali, Rwanda. “But it’s important to note that mountain gorillas’ numbers could still slip back very quickly. We still have just two fragile and small populations,” split between two national park areas.

Several factors have enabled mountain gorillas’ modest rebound, said Masozera.

The three governments have stepped up enforcement of national park boundaries — areas where hunting, logging and paved roads are illegal.

Tourism helps too: Visitors pay up to $1,500 an hour to watch gorillas, money that helps pay for park rangers.

“Primate ecotourism, done right, can be a really significant force for funding conservation,” said Russ Mittermeier, chief conservation officer at Global Wildlife Conservation. “It gives local governments and communities a tangible economic incentive to protect these habitats and species.”

There’s also health care. Gorilla Doctors, a nongovernmental group, has trained veterinary staff in each of the countries where the mountain gorillas live.

Hunting in the national parks is illegal, but nearby residents still set traps to catch other animals, such as antelopes. Those traps can also grab gorillas’ arms and legs.

When gorillas are found struggling with snares, the vets are called in to clean wounds. Kirsten Gilardi, U.S. director for the organization, called it “extreme conservation.”

Other experts said the emergency vet interventions play a significant role in maintaining mountain gorilla populations.

“It’s a total conservation win, and there aren’t that many of them,” said Gilardi.



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NASA wants Canadian boots on the moon as first step in deep space exploration

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The head of the U.S. space agency says he wants to see Canadian astronauts walking on the moon before long, as part of a first step toward the farther reaches of space.

Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, says he wants Canada’s decades-long space partnership with the U.S. to continue as NASA embarks on the creation of its new Lunar Gateway.

The U.S. is seeking broad international support for the next-generation space station it is planning to send into orbit around the moon starting in 2021.

Bridenstine says he wants Canada to contribute its expertise in artificial intelligence and robotics, and that could include a next-generation Canadarm on the Lunar Gateway and more Canadian technology inside.

He says NASA wants to create a “sustainable lunar architecture” that would allow people and equipment to go back and forth to the moon regularly.

Next stop: Mars

“If Canadians want to be involved in missions to the surface of the moon with astronauts, we welcome that. We want to see that day materialize,” he said told a small group of journalists in Ottawa today.

“We think it would be fantastic for the world to see people on the surface of the moon that are not just wearing the American flag, but wearing the flags of other nations.”

He says the return to the moon is a stepping stone to a much more ambitious goal: exploration that could include reaching Mars in the next two decades.

“The moon is, in essence, a proving ground for deeper space exploration,” he said.

Bridenstine is in Ottawa for a large gathering of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, where speculation is running high about Canada’s possible participation in the U.S. space program.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, a vocal booster of Canada’s AI hubs in Ontario and Quebec, is also scheduled to speak, along with one of Canada’s former astronauts, Marc Garneau, the current federal transport minister.

On Dec. 3, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will travel to the International Space Station on his first mission.



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Why Toronto won by losing its bid for Amazon’s new headquarters

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Toronto’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, known as HQ2, lost out to not just one location, but two — New York and northern Virginia — yet the Canadian city may be better off without the American retailing giant.

Amazon’s initial HQ2 pitch promised as many as 50,000 jobs wherever they ultimately picked. As it turns out, those jobs will be split in two, with 25,000 in each new hub, along with another 5,000 jobs to a third city, Nashville, Tenn.

Some people in Toronto’s tech sector, however, say they were worried Amazon would be a very big fish in a small pond — capable of eating up much of the talent in the pool.

“We already have a significant talent shortage, and Canadian growth companies need the talent that multinationals like Amazon will consume,” said Anthony Lacavera, the founder of Toronto-based Globalive, a company that helps entrepreneurs grow their startups through investment and partnerships in an email.

Toronto’s reputation as a tech hub is growing: it’s thriving off of early investments in artificial intelligence and financial technology, a strong university research community, and an ecosystem that supports startups.

According to commercial real estate and investment firm CBRE, for two years in a row Toronto has been North America’s fastest growing tech market, adding 28,900 tech jobs last year, up 13.6 per cent from the year before.  

But it’s yet to be home to a Canadian-born Amazon equivalent.

The arrival of an 800-pound gorilla like Amazon would be more likely to squash Toronto’s thriving ecosystem than help it grow, said Lacavera, who also founded his own startup in Toronto, WIND Mobile, which later sold for $1.3 billion US.

“Canada needs to build its own global winners and end the branch plant economy once and for all,” Lacavera said.

Selling Toronto

Still, Toronto’s bid laid out why it was “ready to become the home for Amazon’s HQ2.” It promoted Toronto’s strong, diverse and affordable talent, quality of life, competitive corporate tax rates, and the country’s universal health care.

We know that health care costs are top of mind at the company. In January, Amazon teamed up with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan to create a new venture aimed at bringing down health care costs for its employees.

But health care wasn’t the only sales pitch. Organizers touted what Toronto had to offer by bringing together multiple different perks from different places in and around the region.

The city’s pitch had the backing of nearby cities such as Hamilton, the tech hub of Kitchener-Waterloo and many more to tout the abundance of high skilled workers — all of whom could be hired for far less than American workers paid in U.S. dollars would demand.

Toronto’s bid had the backing of other nearby cities that, collectively, are home to almost 8 million people across the region. (Toronto Global)

Markham, Ont., which was part of Toronto’s bid, tried to get Amazon’s attention by adding “Possible Future Home of Amazon HQ2” to its welcome sign.

 

There’s something Toronto didn’t do, though: woo Amazon with financial incentives. 

Even though Amazon was worth more than $1 trillion US earlier this year, as the battle between cities heated up, some tried to lure the company with billions of dollars in tax breaks and other enticements.

In the end, both cities that will share the new Amazon HQ2 were more than willing to ante up to play the game, with New York offering around $1.525 billion US in tax breaks and wage subsidies, and Virginia kicking in $573 million worth of incentives of its own.

“It’s disgusting,” said Richard Florida, who was on the board to craft Toronto’s bid, but resigned in order to speak out against cities that were putting expensive carrots on the table, and to try to convince them to compete on merit only.

However, he says the mayors he spoke with insisted they couldn’t do that.

“If everyone would’ve behaved like Toronto and Ontario, this would’ve been a much better process,” said Florida, likening the competition to American Idol.

An influx of thousands of workers could create costly problems for a city, from driving up housing prices, to crowding public transit.

“If Amazon’s going to come you don’t want to give them anything — you want them to be a partner in addressing many of the issues they’re going to create,” said Florida. 

Incentives that don’t pay off

Cities that compete for professional sports teams often roll out a red carpet and offer incentives such as subsidizing new stadiums. But according to Stanford economics professor Roger Noll, it’s never worth it. 

“In terms of local economic activity, there’s essentially zero benefit,” said Noll.

The Amazon case is more complicated though, because unlike a sports franchise, Amazon will derive most of its revenue from outside the chosen city and attract a high-end labour force that pays more taxes and spends money locally.

“It’s probably better for a community to buy Amazon, than a basketball team … but it’s still a huge amount of money to pay and extremely unlikely to be worth it,” Noll said.

Toronto likely would’ve needed to match the other cities’ massive incentives in order to win, which would’ve been a bad deal for the city, he said.

“It’s never worth multiple billions, and Toronto should be proud of itself that it didn’t win this.” 

Toronto’s consolation prize

Last week, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city already got its payoff for its Amazon bid: the proposal it posted online has been downloaded more than 17,000 times.

“The other 16,999 that read that book beyond Amazon are people that today are making decisions about coming to Toronto…. This city is a beacon for investment, for people, for companies,” Tory told reporters.

On Tuesday, the mayor added that Toronto’s bid organizers are still in contact with the company and are “pursuing follow-up opportunities,” with Amazon that could lead to more investment down the line.

 

Toronto may have already landed a headquarters of sorts, if the Sidewalk Labs project that plans to transform a neighbourhood in downtown Toronto goes ahead, according to Florida. Sidewalk Labs is a sister company to Google.

“We could have a Google HQ2,” said Florida. “People don’t think of that.” 

If the Sidewalk Labs project is able to address concerns over data privacy and other issues that come up in public consultations, Florida is optimistic that it would benefit Toronto more than an Amazon headquarters. 

“For Toronto’s sake, I think it’s better it ended up this way,” said Florida



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