Mouse Gestures Software | Hydro-Québec shows consultants the door

Hydro-Quebec thanked half a dozen consultants who downloaded software to simulate their mouse movement while teleworking, and learned The press. The state agency is continuing its investigation into this file and may take action against some of its own employees.

Posted yesterday at 5:00am

Maxim Bergeron

Maxim Bergeron
The press

Last week, The press revealed that Hydro had discovered a series of cybersecurity incidents related to the installation of unauthorized computer programs. Targeted software allows employees working from home to fake their presence at the computer while engaging in other activities, thereby evading potential boss surveillance.

Hydro-Québec said it takes the matter “very seriously” and has wasted no time taking action.

“Consultancy contracts were actually terminated,” confirmed spokesman Maxence Huard-Lefebvre on Tuesday. Sometimes we terminate contracts if the contract clauses are not complied with. Downloading unauthorized software violates our requirements. »

The internal investigation is “still ongoing” and is limited to a “very limited” number of employees who have also downloaded such software, adds Mr Huard-Lefebvre. Other consultants are still to be thanked, he says. “It should be noted that continuous monitoring will be maintained in the organization and that interventions will follow as needed. »

Huge risks

Around 11,000 of Hydro-Québec’s 22,000 employees are now working remotely, more than two years after the pandemic began. The state-owned company says it doesn’t spy on their activities remotely, but instead constantly monitors its computer network for outside threats.

It is this search that has made it possible to track down illegal downloads in recent months. Installing unauthorized software violates two Hydro cybersecurity rules and could have been an entry point for computer viruses or cyberattacks.

Several cybersecurity experts consulted by The press confirm that this type of download poses a serious threat. For example, it’s common for ransomware to be encrypted within seemingly legitimate software.

No “malicious code” or “cybersecurity issue” was discovered at Hydro-Québec, according to a spokesman.

theft of time

Aside from the risks of computer attack, employees’ use of mouse movement software can be tantamount to wasting their employer’s time – an act that can lead to dismissal.

In an email to staff, received from The pressHydro emphasizes that use of these programs is not “consistent with a duty to act professionally at all times and endeavor to perform as expected”.

No cases of using mouse motion simulation software have been reported elsewhere within the Quebec government. In addition, “the Ministry of Cybersecurity and Digital has no information that public authorities use mouse movement detection tools to monitor the presence of their employees working from home,” says spokesman Laurent Berube.

“One thing to note is that some departments require administrator rights to install software on employees’ workstations,” he adds.

Mr Bérubé stresses that “citizens’ personal data are stored in secure environments and access to them by officials in the performance of their teleworking duties conforms to the same security standards as in the office”. All access to the government network is through “secure connections,” he says.

Russian threats

Computer surveillance had already been ramped up several notches at Hydro and elsewhere in the Quebec public apparatus in recent months to guard against the “serious” threat of a cyberattack from Russia.

Electrical distribution networks like Hydro’s have been identified as “potential targets for a cyberattack” by the Quebec government.

According to Cybersecurity and Digital Minister Éric Caire, Russian hackers could attack Quebec and then attack the United States in retaliation for its support of Ukraine in the context of the conflict between the two countries.

“Imagine if we attacked Hydro-Québec and managed to stop power generation [alors qu’]Americans are powered. If you want to attack the Americans, we’re a good transmission belt,” Mr Caire said in April during the National Assembly’s inquiry into his department’s budget.

Hydro-Quebec confirmed in April that it had stepped up surveillance to specifically target Russian-origin threats.

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