Documents reveal that cyberattack on biometric data could jeopardize security at Canadian borders

September 15, 2016 - 

Canada Border Services Agency revealed in a new report that a cyberattack on their facial recognition or fingerprints databases could either prevent innocent travellers from entering the country or allow the wrong individuals in, according to a report by The Toronto Star.

CBSA officials sent documents to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale last November, emphasizing that they need to “keep pace with emerging security vulnerabilities” to systems controlling which individuals can cross Canadian borders.

The documents repeatedly mentioned biometric data as being susceptible to security vulnerabilities.

“A malicious cyberattack, for example, could infiltrate the back-end of a biometric identification system and produce false acceptances and/or rejections,” reads the document.

“Such attacks could disrupt border traffic flows and compromise the integrity of border controls. CBSA must protect Canadians from increasingly complex safety and security threats and continue to advance security monitoring in all technologies.”

Although such an attack could only be executed by sophisticated hackers, CBSA stated that even rudimentary methods could still cause damage. For example, a denial of service attack could “lead to unavailability of essential services,” reads the document.

The agency uses “both physical and technical” security to safeguard its data centers, networks, and applications, according to a CBSA spokesperson.

Other than the security risk, the agency said that Canadians have been calling on governments and companies to more efficiently protect their privacy rights and combat potential unauthorized uses of personal data.

For the past three years, Canadian immigration has been collecting biometric data on all individuals applying for a temporary residence visa. This translates to about 355,000 people from 30 countries every year submitting their fingerprint records and a digital photograph, according to the documents.

The number could continue to rise as Goodale’s office has been asked to provide guidance on the expansion of the program. The order would extend the mandatory biometric requirement to all temporary visa applicants and permanent resident applicants with the exception of U.S. citizens.

Mandatory biometric screening does not currently extend to Canadian citizens, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada said it has no current plans to do so.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for the minister, said that CBSA is working with the federal privacy watchdog on the mandatory biometric screening expansion program.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.