Cyber spies halt online access to national codes

National Research Council contacts building stakeholders via Canada Post
Thursday, August 21, 2014
By Barbara Carss

Espionage targeting the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has forced the suspension of online access to the national building, fire, plumbing and energy codes, related guides and consultation materials. Much of the NRC’s IT infrastructure has been shut down since the discovery of a cyber intrusion in late July.

Links to various documents still appear on the Canadian Codes Centre’s website, but are not functioning. An explanatory message directs would-be users to contact Fiona Hill, the NRC’s production and marketing manager for building regulations, who has been very busy over the past three weeks supplying requested relevant sections of code materials.

“We are just trying to help people on a case-by-case basis because everybody depends on this information,” she says. “It’s part of the tool of doing business.”

The shutdown has not disrupted the code consultation process thus far since there are currently no public reviews in progress. However, the release of proposed changes for the new 2015 code cycle is imminent, and Hill confirms that the review period is still set to begin in September.

A July 31 statement from the Canadian government announced “the NRC expects to be able to resume business activities in an orderly manner over the next few weeks and months,” while noting that it could take up to a year to rebuild a secure system integrated into the broader government network.

The Canadian Codes Centre’s website likewise affirms “providing access to our subscription holders is one of the most pressing corporate priorities and NRC is working to ensure access is restored as soon as possible.” Code documents are also available in print form, which can be ordered by calling 1-800-672-7990 — representing something of a return to the past for the construction industry.

“In this day and age when everyone is using a computer, it is an inconvenience, but we are working around it the best we can,” says Gary Sharp, director of technical services with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA). “I would guess not many people use print documents anymore.”

Correspondence with stakeholder groups like the CHBA has also been affected, as Sharp reports recent receipt of a letter via Canada Post to outline the temporary change in working conditions at the NRC. Internet posting of review documents and meeting agendas in downloadable PDF format will be halted until there is clearance to resume.

“We don’t have a timeline right now for when the website will be operational,” Hill says.

“The NRC relies on the internet to communicate with the subcommittees working on individual parts of the national codes and to communicate with other interested parties for such activities as public reviews. Without these means of communication being available, it will surely slow down the development process,” suggests Bob Bach, who is vice-chair (energy) of the Ontario Building Code Advisory Council.

Even so, it seems unlikely that cyber snoops were after code information when they infiltrated the NRC’s IT system. While fundamental to health and safety, the content is neither closely guarded nor compromising to national interests if released.

“If you want to get a look at the building code, it’s easy enough to do. You send in $400 and they send you a copy,” Sharp quips. “We actually want to see it in the hands of as many Canadian builders as possible.”

Barbara Carss is the editor-in-chief of Canadian Property Management.