IDEaS program invests in identifying malicious actors online

December 7, 2023


The Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program, working with the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM), has completed its first ever Test Drive - on detecting and identifying online cyber threats.

A person in a hoodie looks at computer screens in an eerie light in a dark room.

The IDEaS program invested in developing a solution to identify the perpetrators of sophisticated cyber threats.

"The IDEaS program allowed us to access innovations that are at an early technology readiness level, and then further collaborate with those innovators to develop those technologies so that they can move to a later stage of technology readiness," said LCdr Shekhar Gothi, who was responsible for coordinating innovation requirements for CANSOFCOM.

When the internet was created, attribution was not its primary design objective. Because the internet is decentralized, dynamic, and open, it makes it easy for criminals to cover their footprints and operate with different degrees of anonymity. It also allows perpetrators to work on a variety of special dimensions, from nearby local targets to distant global targets connected by telecommunications. As a result, offenders can operate from any location in the world, conceal their true identities, and carry out their crimes through questionable third parties.

The ability to identify the source of malicious cyber activity is the basis for taking necessary action against a perpetrator, and this is no different within the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF). That’s why IDEaS, working with CANSOFCOM, launched a challenge to Canadian innovators in 2018 seeking technological solutions that could help the CAF identify malicious cyber actors.

Sapper Labs, an Ottawa-based company, received an initial $200,000 to advance its promising proof of concept, and then an additional $1 million to produce a fully functional design of an active cyber defence system capable of automated detection and identification of cyber threats.

In December 2020, Sapper Labs was then invited to advance their solution to a "Test Drive" with a contract valued at $7.5 million to develop, build, test, and support an active cyber defence platform for CANSOFCOM on complex tactical networks in domestic and foreign deployed environments.

An IDEaS Test Drive is an opportunity for innovators to offer their ready, or near-end state solutions to the DND/CAF to test and evaluate their solutions in a real operational environment as part of a test plan. These tests allow the DND/CAF to analyze a product or service, while working with the innovators to make any required adjustments to the solution to better fit the DND/CAF’s needs.

Over the course of 24 months, through complex conditions of COVID-19 and site restrictions, the team completed the development, build, tuning, testing, and related training for DND/CAF operators on the systems. The result was a fully functional active cyber defence system that was tested in Canada and foreign operational networks.

"Sapper Labs was able to achieve tremendous advancements in understanding the progressive persistent threats and how to deal with them from a cyber and intelligence perspective," said Al Dillon, Chief Executive Officer, Sapper Labs. "Working alongside other experts in uniform, we gained an understanding of the complexity of the challenge. Working with the IDEaS program has allowed us that flexibility and collaboration through the execution to build an actual viable solution."

Options are currently being investigated for possible further applications of the Sapper Labs solution by the DND/CAF.

Related links:


Check out the Sapper Labs Test Drive profile video on social media: