Skip to content

Jobs of the Future: Canadore College, North Bay poised to play big role in future of Canadian cybersecurity

ThinkOn's new hub seeking "thinkers" that can communicate solid ideas

The gateway to the North may become a major player on Canada’s cybersecurity front.

ThinkOn, a global security company, is putting down roots in North Bay by partnering with Canadore College in what it calls its Global Command Centre.

The centre houses ThinkOn’s primary cybersecurity operations, a centre of excellence for digital public safety, a professional services group, event and network operations, and application development.

The partnership comes at a crucial time, as Canadians learn more about the reach of foreign influence across the web and see firsthand the kind of havoc that malicious players can wreak on social media.

John Slater, ThinkOn’s chief security officer, said the changing face of online threats makes Canadian-owned centres — especially cloud storage services that store government and health care data — essential.

“The threat actors have changed from some guy in his underwear at home to governments and to criminal organizations,” Slater said.

“You've got companies that are out there, like organized crime groups, and they will hire people on consignment, give them the software tools and let them attack whoever they like.”

Those players then get paid via Bitcoin, making the trail all but untraceable. 

“The scariest thing to me is when I see on the dark web that a kid in Somalia, maybe used to jump in a boat with a machine gun to take over a ship can now get paid on consignment to break into a company and steal the data,” Slater said.

A recent report from the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security said cybercrime is still the number one cyber threat activity affecting Canadians, and that state-sponsored cyber programs of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea continue to pose the “greatest strategic cyber threat to Canada.”

ThinkOn — with its data centres in Ottawa, Toronto and soon North Bay — is the only Canadian company that can provide governments with the required security it needs to house its data, Slater said.

That puts it alongside internet titans Microsoft — with their Azure cloud network — and Amazon’s AWS.

“Our responsibility is to make sure that all of the infrastructure that we're managing is secure, and safe from attack,” Slater said.

To that end, the centre already employs 28 people — the company refers to them as “thinkers” — but it expects to ramp that up as demand for their services increase.

North Bay: The next tech hub?

North Bay might not seem like a typical tech-hub setting, but Slater said the city’s “attitude” has been more than receptive, and its collaborative approach between the municipality, Indigenous communities, postsecondary institutes and residents was what sold ThinkOn on setting up shop.

“There is a difference in feeling when working with the people in North Bay,” Slater said. “It's very difficult to describe, but I can tell you… (former) Mayor (Al) McDonald was unbelievable in terms of the support. We even had a retreat up in the North Bay last August and we had a fish fry at his house.

“That kind of support is not something that happens in a lot of different areas.”

Paul West, one of the company’s directors, describes himself as ThinkOn’s least tech-y employees, but he still found a home in cybersecurity.

Now, he’s encouraging all kinds of potential recruits to consider ThinkOn if they’re entering the workforce or “retooling” mid-career.

“The opportunities I have are for good storytellers, for good listeners, for people who can communicate ideas,” West said. “And that's not always technology.

“In fact, I'm probably the least technology-minded person in our team, but it's a matter of being able to bring that story forward,” he said. “That's what I look for when we're tapping into resources in the North.

“And there are some phenomenal storytellers in [this] community.”

So far, the centre has a combination of skill sets on its roster — some working on the service desk, people working on the network or security, and application developers. ThinkOn has also formed a partnership with the First Peoples’ Circle on Education, a not-for-profit organization that supports and empowers Indigenous people to independently deliver services and address socioeconomic conditions in their communities.

“I think people want to be able to ask themselves, where is my job of the future going to be? What experience do I need?” West said. 

“It's not always somebody coming through high school and choosing that path in postsecondary. There are also adult learners and people retooling mid-career who might be working in other industries in Northern Ontario, that want to experience an opportunity in tech.

“And we can bring those to them. Because of the nature of our industry, through conductivity, we can virtually work anywhere.”

Now that ThinkOn is making a home in North Bay, what’s next for the security company? The key could be in the development of what they’re calling their “cyber range.”

Imagine an arena where one can simulate and learn to deal with the experience of being hacked, or being the victim of a ransomware attack.

West says it’s like a “flight simulator for cybercrimes.”

“For educators in college and university and in government, we have the ability to safely train operators in defensive measures and detection measures… they can virtually understand what goes on and they're equipped to respond as the cyber events and attacks occur,” West said.

As for any suggestions for day-to-day users of social media who may not often think about cybercrimes or data security, West said the key is to be careful when it comes to offering up data freely to internet giants. 

“I think inside the tools of social media, whether it's TikTok or Google or Facebook, we need to have a personal vigilance around what we're choosing to disclose and why we're choosing to disclose it,” West said.

“Whether it's health records, whether it's DNA and ancestry records. There's a lot of data out there that could be misused or abused.”

In February, the federal government banned TikTok from all government devices, citing an “unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security.”

That type of suspicion around companies — and foreign governments — will likely increase in the future as the capacity to do more with personal devices increases. 

“But it's all about disclosure,” West said. “It's all about motive. It's all about monetization and motivation, that we're trying to make sure that we're doing our very best to disclose that we're trustworthy.

“We believe that ThinkOn is hiring trustworthy people, particularly trustworthy people in North Bay.”