Safeguarding Research

Keeping global research vibrant and safe

Global understanding and collaboration are central to our ambition to improve life.

At University of Guelph our researchers are working with international colleagues to help solve worldwide challenges through ingenuity, innovation and partnerships.

Our research reputation is founded on open and collaborative partnerships with national and international partners in academic, government, industry and non-profit sectors. These play a key role in research advances and addressing social, technological and economic issues, and they require the research community to take steps to ensure their research is protected.

The Government of Canada has been collaborating with research institutions across the country to help raise the awareness of potential risks to their research and ensure that the research community is well-equipped to mitigate such risks, including the theft or misuse of knowledge and results.

COVID-19 intensified the focus on these threats due to the nature of the research and the transition to remote working. The following guidance is intended to equip all researchers with information and tools to make sure Canadian research and development benefits both those who perform it and Canadians more generally. Please check back as new resources are added and updated frequently.

Guides and resources

University of Guelph resources

U15 resources​

CSIS resources​

Government of Canada resources​


Why is protecting your research important?

Canada's impressive global research reputation is such that it can be a target for others to appropriate this research for their own advantage or gains. This includes research that could be applied to strategic, military or intelligence capabilities of other countries. 

Government of Canada:  Why safeguard your research?

Who are you at risk from?

In building a secure research environment, it is important to assess the motivations of outside partners, to consider whether members of your own team or institution could be self-motivated or pressured by others to access or steal your research and to acknowledge that foreign countries may target certain types of research to advance their own objectives.

Government of Canada: Who are you at risk from?

What are the risks?

If third parties obtain your research, risks include:

  • the theft or misuse of research data 
  • the loss of intellectual property, patenting and potential revenue
  • legal or administrative reprisal
  • loss of potential future partnerships
  • a tarnished reputation.

Good research security and cyber hygiene practices can minimize the risk of theft and ensure your research remains in your control (see Ccomputing and Communications Services (CCS), University of Guelph: Information Security). 

It is also important to be aware of the potential commercial applications of your research (see Research Innovation Office) and to be aware of legal requirements such as export controls and working with controlled goods.

Government of Canada: What are the risks?

Government of Canada: Case Studies: Scenarios

What areas of research are most vulnerable?

Research with significant commercial potential, national security impacts or sensitive data with ethical or privacy concerns may be particularly vulnerable. There is more information about this in the following section.

Uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19 creates a research environment that is susceptible to threats. This applies specifically to COVID-19 research, but also to the fact that a great deal of research activities are now being conducted remotely. CCS has provided resources to assist people to work remotely in a secure manner.

Canada's cyber security has witnessed a heightened level of risk during the pandemic and the Cyber Centre issues frequent cyber threat alerts and advisories.

Government of Canada: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Remote Working Remotely

Public Health Agency of Canada, Government of Canada: Canadian Biosafety Guideline – Dual-Use in Life Science Research 

Mitigating economic and/or geopolitical risk in sensitive research projects

The scope for research collaboration across borders and disciplines is expanding and the movement of data and research results is accelerating. As a research-intensive university, U of G collaborates with partners in ways that enrich the global research ecosystem and enhance societal well-being and economic growth.

A core tenet of university research is academic freedom to pursue wide-ranging research across all disciplines. Researchers need to have the freedom to operate with a minimum of barriers while being equipped to pursue research safely and freely in a global context. In a rapidly evolving global context, researchers need to be able to assess and manage risks that emerge when research topics intersect with economic, political or strategic interests.

Managing these risks often requires knowledge in areas unrelated to the research team’s expertise. In collaboration with the Government of Canada-Universities Working Group, the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities and Universities Canada have created a guide to many of these issues, including best practices.  

Topics covered include:

  • Assessing risk potential
  • Mitigating risks
    • Building a strong project team
    • Knowing your non-academic partners
    • Cybersecurity and data management
    • Use of research findings and intellectual property

Access the U15 Guide: Mitigating economic and/or geopolitical risks in sensitive research projects 

Useful U of G resources: CCS: Information SecurityResearch Innovation Office

Travel security guide for university researchers and staff

International travel for research is often required for data acquisition, information sharing, and establishing and maintaining collaborations that enhance and accelerate the pursuit of knowledge.

The present geopolitical reality means that Canadian researchers travelling abroad may be targeted for their access to data and certain sources of information.

In collaboration with the Government of Canada-Universities Working Group, the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities and Universities Canada have created a guide that focuses on risks created due to the intersection of geopolitical dynamics and research areas. It describes the nature of economic and geopolitically motivated threats to you or your research, provides basic steps you can take to mitigate risk and suggests actions you can take in case of incidents.

Risk factors addressed include:

  • Research topics
  • Access to partners
  • Access to the U.S.
  • Travel and travel companions
  • Your personal profile
  • Interpersonal connections
  • Physical and cyber intrusions

Access the U15 Guide: Travel security guide for university researchers and staff

Useful U of G Resources: CCS: Information Security

Export controls and working with controlled goods

Industry sponsored research lays a foundation for more research and builds relationships where students and trainees gain industry exposure leading to increased skills and employability.

Industry sponsored research at U of G creates opportunity for:

  • Increased engagement between academia and industry
  • Diversity of funding sources for research
  • Industry access to leading experts and specialized research infrastructure
  • Translation of academic innovations into products that impact society

While U of G welcomes the growth of industry sponsored research, changes in the global political landscape have necessitated that we pay attention to issues surrounding export control and sanctions, both in Canada and in other jurisdictions around the world.

What is export control?

Export control regulations are Canadian laws that prevent the export of goods and technology to foreign entities, or individuals, for reasons of national security or trade interests. Failure to adhere to these laws can result in prosecution by the Government of Canada, with possible fines and/or imprisonment.

Many categories of items listed on the Canadian Export Control List are obvious, such as munitions and nuclear equipment, materials and technologies. There are many other items that are less intuitive but which are nonetheless under export control. A complete list of Canadian export-controlled items can be found at: Global Affairs Canada: A Guide to Canada's Export Control List.

Conflict with foreign country export control

Most countries will have export control laws specific to their national interests. While we work in Canada, we must be mindful of other countries’ export control laws when employing or partnering with their citizens, or contracting with companies or other entities within their boundaries. With increasing frequency, foreign partners request that the University adhere to another country’s export control laws, which can be problematic, as they may conflict with Canadian law.

How can export control be managed?

Exporting goods on the Export Control List

If an item is listed under Canadian export control, it does not necessarily mean that it cannot be exported to a foreign entity. A Canadian broker, acting on behalf of the foreign partner, can apply to the Government of Canada for an export permit specific to the good or technology listed on the Export Control List. The preparation and application for an export permit is outside of the expertise of the University and must be undertaken by the partner.

Exporting research outputs listed on the Export Control List

Infractions against Canadian export control regulations can potentially occur when the University grants rights to foreign partners for technology developed under sponsored research agreements. The University would be in violation of export control regulations if it assigned or licensed intellectual property arising from sponsored research that is described on the Export Control List.

When the University is aware that the research outputs are likely to be listed on the Canadian Export Control List, it can insist that the partner obtain an export permit before the transfer of technology, or it can release all results and findings from the sponsored research to the public (a public disclosure) without a grant of rights. This is typically done by means of a peer-reviewed academic publication and ensures that those discoveries are gifted to the public for use by the global community, if not also patented in a particular country.

Controlled goods

Controlled goods are a specific subset of materials on the Export Control List generally related to national defense or national security.

If a researcher wishes to work with a Controlled Good, the University must obtain approval from the Government of Canada’s Public Services and Procurement branch.  Applications will require a description of the controlled good, a list of all individuals who will have access to the controlled good and a security plan.

For further information, please see the Controlled Goods and Controlled Technology website or contact U of G’s Controlled Goods Program Designated Official, Jennifer Wesley, Manager, Research Risk.  The Designated Official will apply for required permissions on behalf of the University. Please note that all individuals involved in research with the Controlled Good will be required to complete a security check. Failure to adhere to Government of Canada’s protocols can result in substantial fines and/or imprisonment.

What are sanctions?

Sanctions are penalties applied by one country against another country, group(s), or individual(s). Such sanctions frequently include trade barriers (similar to export control), and also limitations, or outright bans, on financial transactions. A list of Canadian sanctions can be found at the following website:

Government of Canada: Current sanctions imposed by Canada

For example, if Canada has sanctions on a specific country that include an: arms embargo, asset freeze, export and import restrictions, financial prohibitions, and technical assistance prohibition, the University cannot enter into agreement where products, technology, results, or funding are transferred or otherwise contravene that specific sanction.

Like the re-export of export-controlled materials from another country, special care and consideration must be paid to the transfer of foreign goods and/or funds to countries, groups, or individuals under another country’s sanction list. The sanctions list for The United States of America is many times greater than the Canadian sanctions list. Caution must be exercised when transferring funds to another country when they originate from the US (e.g., the National Institutes of Health (NIH)).