Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tasked a committee of senior cabinet ministers to develop a new national cybersecurity plan amid increasingly public warnings from the country’s intelligence community about online threats.

In mandate letters released Thursday afternoon, Trudeau tapped his national defence, foreign affairs, public safety and industry ministers to develop a new “National Cyber Security Strategy.”

The plan should “articulate Canada’s long-term strategy to protect our national security and economy, deter cyber threat actors, and promote norms-based international behaviour in cyberspace,” the letters read.

The directive comes as Canada’s intelligence community has been increasingly vocal in their warnings about the threat cyberattacks – and competing nation states – pose to the country’s security, economy and critical infrastructure.

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s electronic cyber defence and espionage agency, warned last week that cyberattacks against critical sectors – like health care provision, manufacturing and the energy sector – are on the rise.

The agency has warned throughout the pandemic that workers shifting to their homes – and away from more secure office networks – presents a target-rich environment for cybercriminals or state-backed hackers to exploit.

Global News reported last week that, for the first time, CSE acknowledged it has conducted cyber operations against foreign hackers to “impose a cost.”

There are signs that the Liberal government is heeding the intelligence community’s warnings.

A joint letter signed by Defence Minister Anita Anand, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and International Trade Minister Mary Ng implored Canadian businesses and organizations to beef up their cybersecurity measures.

“It’s time to think seriously about cyber security,” the letter read. “We urge you to take stock of your organization’s online operations, protect your important information and technologies with the latest cyber security measures, build a response plan and ensure that your designated IT security personnel are well prepared to respond to incidents.”

Trudeau asked Anand and Mendicino, along with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, to develop the new strategy. No timeline has been set for its delivery – although Trudeau told his ministers that he expects regular and public updates on their progress.

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