Inside CSE

What we do

CSE is Canada’s national lead for foreign signals intelligence and cyber operations, and the technical authority for cybersecurity.

We operate under the Communications Security Establishment Act (the CSE Act), and other Canadian laws, including the Privacy Act , the Criminal Code , and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The CSE Act, which came into force in August 2019, sets out the five aspects of our mandate:

  • helping to protect and defend Canada’s most important cyber systems;
  • acquiring foreign intelligence in support of the Government of Canada’s intelligence priorities;
  • conducting defensive foreign cyber operations;
  • conducting active foreign cyber operations; and
  • assisting federal law enforcement and security agencies, the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence to carry out their lawful mandates.

Cabinet and Ministerial direction and priorities drive CSE’s activities, with specific Authorizations in place for some activities. Depending on the specific Authorization, approval from the independent Intelligence Commissioner or consent from the Minister for Foreign Affairs may also be required.

What we do and why we do it

Simply put, CSE helps protect Canadian economic and national security.

For example, CSE’s Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (the Cyber Centre) protects the systems and information that Canadians rely on every day. We do it by:

  • defending Government of Canada networks from cyber threats;
  • providing expert cyber security advice, guidance and services for other levels of government and critical infrastructure (such as telecommunications or energy companies); and
  • offering simple but effective tips that all Canadians can use to help keep themselves safer on-line.

We work closely with government departments, provinces and territories, critical infrastructure, Canadian businesses, academics and international partners to raise Canada’s cyber security bar so Canadians can live and work online safely and with confidence.

CSE also collects foreign intelligence to inform and alert the government to the activities of foreign entities who seek to undermine our national prosperity and security.

We provide information about foreign-based cyber threats, espionage, terrorism, kidnappings of Canadians abroad, attacks against Canadians abroad, among other serious threats. This information helps inform Government of Canada actions and decisions to combat these threats.

Our foreign intelligence also supports government decision-making and policy making in international affairs, defence and security. It provides important insights into global events and crises, and supports Canada’s national interests in an increasingly complex world.

Under the authorities in the CSE Act, we can also conduct defensive and active foreign cyber operations. Defensive cyber operations are online actions to help protect Government systems or information (or on request and with the appropriate Authorization, critical infrastructure systems or information).

Active cyber operations are online actions to impede or disrupt foreign threats to Canada

Privacy, compliance, review and oversight

Working to protect Canadians means also protecting their privacy. And respecting Canadian privacy and complying with the law are built into everything CSE does – from training our people to design our policies and building our systems.

CSE also operates under a comprehensive oversight and review regime. The independent Intelligence Commissioner reviews and approves certain operational Authorizations, and all CSE activities are subject to independent review by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.

CSE also operates under strong internal management oversight, as well as robust review by its Audit and Evaluation Branch.

Learn more about us

As part of our ongoing efforts to better tell our story to Canadians, the following fact sheets provide more details about our activities, how they make a difference in protecting Canadians, and how we protect privacy.