Sajjan: Russia is targeting us

With a federal election less than a year away, Canada's defence minister is warning voters they will be targeted by online cyber-attacks and fake news as Russia steps up its efforts to undermine western democracies.

"We have taken this into account very seriously in our defence policy," Harjit Sajjan said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"We need to further educate our citizens about the impact of fake news. No one wants to be duped by anybody."

Sajjan made the comments while attending a defence and security conference in Halifax, where experts, military officers and politicians representing democracies from around the world spent a great deal of time discussing cyber-warfare.

"When we stand up for human rights, and when we stand up ... to nations like Russia who are going against the rules-based order ... you become a target," Sajjan said, adding that Canada's decision to protest Russia's annexation of Crimea has also raised Russia's ire.

He said the Canadian government has a cyber-security plan that includes establishing the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security within the Communications Security Establishment, which is focused on collecting foreign signals intelligence.

Rose Gottemoeller, deputy-secretary general of NATO, stressed that Russia is not the only country using the internet to spread disinformation, citing a NATO report released Sunday that drew attention to North Korea, China and Iran.

The report, presented Sunday to a NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Halifax, was discussed by NATO's science and technology committee.

U.S. Democratic congresswoman Susan Davis told the committee that Russian interference continued in the early stages of the recent U.S. mid-term elections, although not on the scale seen during the 2016 election that saw Donald Trump elected president.

Last year, Facebook said hundreds of dubious accounts, likely operated out of Russia, spent about $100,000 on some 3,000 ads about contentious issues such as LGBT rights, race, immigration and guns. Facebook later said an estimated 10 million people in the United States saw the ads.

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