Is your research safe?Posted on: Sep 16, 2020
Safeguarding your research
The Government of Canada has released a website with important information related to safekeeping research activities and products.
“This website provides information on how to safeguard your research and innovations. Canadian research and innovation are the product of collaborations and partnerships between governments, businesses, and academics – both domestically and internationally – across a wide range of subjects.
The Government of Canada recognizes that open and collaborative research is indispensable to pushing the boundaries of science and addressing complex economic and societal challenges. Canada recognizes the importance of Open Science as a driver for greater innovation and inclusion in research and development.
Nonetheless, there may be risks involved with research and innovation, including theft or misuse of knowledge and results in ways that teams do not intend. It is important to be aware of potential risks and to take the necessary steps and precautions to ensure it is secure. The Government of Canada is proud to collaborate with academic institutions across the country to bring you guidance on how to safeguard your research.
Canada’s multi-disciplinary research community is world-renowned. With the right tools and awareness of the potential risks that may face Canada’s world-leading science and research, we can all play an active role in making sure the benefits of Canadian research and development are realized by those that perform it and for the benefit of Canadians.”
Tools for navigating changing geopolitical realities
Universities Canada has released a set of “Tools for navigating changing geopolitical realities” to assist researchers in understanding and handling the threats that the evolving geopolitical environment poses on their activities. There are physical and virtual threats that may endanger research activities on sensitive subjects.
The resources provided by Universities Canada are useful documents to help researchers assess their level of risk and take preventative actions to minimize such risks. At CUE Research, we encourage you to read these documents. Should you have any concerns, please approach your Department Chair, the Dean of your Faculty, or CUE’s Office of Research Services.
Currently, two documents have been released:
- Mitigating economic and/or geopolitical risks in sensitive research projects
- Travel security guide for university researchers and staff
Below are some excepts from these documents.
Travel Security Guide for University Researchers and Staff
Five reasons Canadian researchers may be of interest and at risk
For researchers, the pursuit of knowledge and academic excellence drive them to collaborate across Canada and across borders. While travel is an integral part of collaboration, there are five factors that may put a Canadian researcher more at risk of being a target for theft and espionage while abroad.
1. Your research: While all research could be of interest to malicious actors, your research may be of more interest if it relates to:
a. Canadian or foreign security practices, like military practices or law enforcement.
b. Canadian or foreign commercial activities or intellectual property development.
c. STEM and emerging technology fields.
d. Health or other personal data (e.g. human genomics, interviews with key figures, etc.).
e. Politically sensitive contexts (either domestic or international).
2. Your access to indirect partners: Information about fellow research partners, your institution, private industry partners and the Canadian government1 can be used by malicious actors to target them.
3. Your access to the United States: Given the close relationship between Canada and the United States and the mobility that many researchers enjoy between Canadian and U.S. institutions, Canadian researchers occupy a unique strategic position. In some cases, Canadian researchers have privileged access to advanced U.S. technologies, which few others can legitimately procure. As a result, when travelling abroad, Canadian researchers may be seen as soft targets for access to U.S. institutions or research data.
4. Where you travel to: As a Canadian researcher, you have the privilege of being able to travel to many places around the world. While many of these countries are safe, some countries are riskier and the level of risk can change as global dynamics evolve.
5. Who you travel with: Researchers often have the opportunity to travel as part of delegations made up of other researchers, university senior leadership, business leaders or government officials. As part of a high-profile group, you may be more at risk of drawing attention from foreign governments or other actors.
Exposure to Economic and Geopolitical Risks
While most research projects are likely to have a low economic and/or geopolitical risk profile, taking a few minutes to proactively assess the risk profile of your project can help you decide more confidently on which, if any, risk mitigation measures are appropriate. In assessing your project’s exposure to economic or geopolitical risks, you should look for external indicators of risk and consider the economic and geopolitical context of your research project.
Identifying external indicators of risk
In addition to proactively assessing your project for impacts that create economic or geopolitical risks, you should watch for external risk indicators, including:
• Offers of funding where the ultimate source of money and/or value to the funder is unclear.
• Collaborations or partnerships where you are asked not to report some/all activities to your institution or not to adhere to your institution’s policies and practices. This could include offers to fund your work with cash.
• Pricing from potential suppliers that is significantly below market rate and possibly even below cost.
• You are working with items covered by Canada’s Export Control List.
If any of the above factors apply to you, it is important to enlist your institution’s research services or partnerships office. Once you have addressed the specific indicator (e.g. by declining suspicious funding or selecting a different partner or supplier), you should invest some time in assessing whether this concern was an indicator of a larger set of economic or geopolitical risks using the process below.
Assessing economic and geopolitical context
Even if there are not any obvious indicators of risk, assessing the risk profile of your project is important. To assess whether your project may be of interest to a malicious actor and warrant extra mitigation measures, you should consider your research’s potential to impact their economic, domestic or international political ambitions. The higher the probability and scale of these impacts, the more motivated someone might be to steal, compromise or discredit your work.