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Canada among targets of alleged Chinese hacking campaign

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Companies in Canada were among the targets of two Chinese citizens charged with waging an extensive hacking campaign to steal valuable data over many years, U.S. authorities say.

In an indictment unsealed Thursday, prosecutors say Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong were acting on behalf of China’s main intelligence agency to pilfer information from several countries.

Beginning about four years ago, Zhu and Zhang waged an intrusion campaign to gain access to computers and networks of “managed service providers” for businesses and governments around the world, the indictment says.

Such providers are private firms that manage clients’ information by furnishing servers, storage, networking, consulting and information-technology support. Breaking into one such computer system can provide a route into multiple customers’ data; the hackers breached the computers of enterprises involved in activities ranging from banking and telecommunications to mining and health care, say the papers filed in U.S. District Court.

The indictment says Zhu and Zhang are members of a group operating in China known as Advanced Persistent Threat 10. They purportedly broke into computers belonging to — or providing services to — companies in at least 12 countries, including Canada.

How? According to the indictment, they used forged emails to get unwitting recipients to open files impregnated with security-breaching malware, a technique called “spear-phishing.”

The two suspects, who worked for Huaying Haital Science and Technology Development Co. in Tianjin, are accused of acting in association with the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s Tianjin State Security Bureau.

Strengthening the login process

Canada’s Communications Security Establishment issued a statement supporting the U.S. allegations a few hours after the American announcement.

“Today, many of Canada’s allies and partners have made statements concerning the compromise of several Managed Service Providers. CSE also assesses that it is almost certain that actors likely associated with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ministry of State Security (MSS) are responsible for the compromise of several Managed Service Providers (MSP), beginning as early as 2016,” it said.

The statement said Canadian authorities detected the threat at the time and warned businesses in general terms about good security habits in dealing with these providers.

The CSE sent out a more detailed bulletin after Thursday’s indictments, advocating practices such as “multi-factor authentication,” which requires people to sign into computers in more than one way, and running background monitoring software that sends up an alert when an apparently legitimate user starts doing unusual things on a company network.

Goodale: No charges pending in Canada

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a news conference that the government isn’t aware that any data was stolen from Canadians.

“To the best of our knowledge, we do not have reports — to the best of my knowledge — of specific losses, but we are aware of intrusions,” he said. “So the incidents took place, the hacking and the compromise took place. Whether there was actually a theft committed or the withdrawal of information or data, that’s not information that’s within our domain.”

He refused to name any of the victims Canadian authorities have identified, saying that’s commercially confidential information the government can’t reveal.

As disappointed as the Canadian government is by China’s espionage, Goodale said, it will separate this case from China’s detention of two Canadians in apparent retaliation for the arrest in Vancouver of Chinese technology executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant.

“They are two quite separate incidents,” Goodale said. “The situation that we’re dealing with today in terms of cybersecurity was first detected going back to 2016 and we have been taking the appropriate steps with the private sector ever since then. We will deal with these as very serious matters in their own right but not matters that intersect with each other.”

He said no charges are pending in Canada now but standing side-by-side with allies such as the Americans should “send a very strong message that it is serious, that it is important, and we are taking all necessary steps to ensure that Canadians are protected.”

Canada targeted

The alleged hackers provided Chinese intelligence officials with sensitive business information, said U.S. deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

“This is outright cheating and theft, and it gives China an unfair advantage at the expense of law-abiding businesses and countries that follow the international rules in return for the privilege of participating in the global economic system,” Rosenstein said.

In one case, the indictment says, the APT10 Group obtained unauthorized access to the computers of an unnamed service provider that had offices in New York state and then compromised the data of the provider and clients in Canada, the United States, Britain, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

The victims included a global financial institution, three telecommunications or consumer electronics companies, three manufacturing firms, two consulting companies, and businesses involved in healthcare, biotechnology, mining, automotive supply and drilling, authorities say. None of them is specified by name in the indictment.

The RCMP and Global Affairs Canada had no immediate comment on the U.S. charges.

In another campaign that began as early as 2006, the APT10 Group, including Zhu and Zhang, allegedly attacked the computers and networks of more than 45 technology companies and U.S. government agencies to steal valuable information and data about various technologies.

The group made off with hundreds of gigabytes of sensitive data by targeting the computers of companies involved in aviation, space and satellite technology, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and oil and gas exploration, among others, the indictment says. It also broke into computers that held data belonging to NASA and the U.S. navy and took private identify information of more than 100,000 navy personnel, the indictment says.

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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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