You’ve probably received a Facebook friend request from someone you already know, or a message from someone asking for money, posing as a family member. Most of the time, it’s easy to distinguish real messages from scams – but sometimes a link in an email to reset a banking password or a message from the boss can look all too convincing.
“It’s constant,” Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer said, noting that Council often deals with similar situations of scammers sending fraudulent emails.
She said she often receives emails from the tech department at the MCK urging workers to be on high alert about potentially fraudulent emails. “I think it’s just a matter of time. And that’s why it’s important we be proactive instead of reactive, if this kind of thing is more and more prevalent.”
Cybersecurity is a pressing issue in this age of technology. Murray Rowe, Jr., president of IndigenousTech.ai is hoping to foster a long-term project in Kahnawake that could see the community’s internet systems updated to better protect from cyber attacks. The project would be sponsored by IndigenousTech.ai, and would therefore be provided free of charge to the community.
“Our goal is to load BlackBerry software onto the computers, and to perform an analysis with consent from the community in conjunction with the Canadian Centre for Cybersecurity to understand how bad the situation is,” Rowe said.
Rowe said that often, funding is given to set up networks without there being adequate planning for cybersecurity. For example, the federal government has a $3-billion budget to connect rural communities to high-speed internet. But money hasn’t been set aside to protect Indigenous communities receiving the services from potential ransomware attacks, where hackers block access to computer systems until specific sums of money are received.
“It’s kind of like building a house, but there’s no front door,” said Rowe.
He said that while there’s particular concern for rural communities getting high-speed internet for the first time, communities like Kahnawake are also at higher risk of cyberattacks. During the pandemic the Tsuut’ina Nation in Alberta suffered a ransomware attack and paid a ransom.
In 2018 the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in Saskatoon was also the victim of a ransomware attack. First Nations are often at higher risk due to outdated or less secure systems within their networks.
Sky-Deer was recently in New York for the BlackBerry Summit 2023, which was sponsored by IndigenousTech.ai. BlackBerry, formerly known for their involvement in telecommunications, now specializes in corporate security, and Rowe hopes BlackBerry can partner with IndigenousTech.ai and MCK to better equip Kahnawake to combat cyberattacks.
Sky-Deer found it interesting to learn about the ins and outs of cybersecurity at the conference and is looking forward to a potential partnership in the future.
“We have a lot of data, a lot of information that’s on our systems and our infrastructure that’s important here in the community. We have our own hospital here, we have a lot of things that need to be protected,” Sky-Deer said. “Technology is forever changing and evolving, so we just need to know how we can be protected.”
IndigenousTech.ai is led in part by chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band, who believes that initiatives like this are an important way to bring economic prosperity to communities. Should a long-term partnership happen, community members would be employed to learn about and implement cybersecurity strategies.
“Chief Louie is quite adamant about this, he wants good paying jobs on the reserve. That’s what he wants to see,” Rowe said.
The Canadian Centre for Cybersecurity is an arm of the federal government, and Rowe noted that often there is distrust between Indigenous communities and federal government entities. However, Rowe said it’s essential that the federal government be involved in protecting First Nations because often cyberattacks are led by government entities from China, Russia, or North Korea.
“The people who are involved in hacking and ransomware are state-sponsored; they have a business in and are specifically attacking First Nations,” he said.
“We need the federal government. We need their help in this, because we’re fighting other governments.”
Plans for a long-term partnership need to be started as soon as possible, both Sky-Deer and Rowe said.
“Cybersecurity is one of the next frontiers. Organizations who invest in this, who understand this, and who train their people will do well,” Rowe said. “We’re excited about working with the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. We’ve been to the community dozens of times. We’re committed to it working.”
This article was originally published in print on Friday, October 27, in issue 32.43 of The Eastern Door.