Asean must consolidate in fighting cyber threats

The members must work together in enhancing laws and share expertise to ensure the security of the cyberspace, says PM


SHARING of intelligence, information and expertise among Asean member states is paramount now more than ever, as the way of doing business has changed dramatically due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Malaysia has identified digital economy as one of the key economic growth areas following the outbreak in the country, said Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (picture).

In his keynote speech at the first Asean Digital Ministers Meeting yesterday, Muhyiddin opined that the pandemic has given Asean member states the unanticipated nudge to move faster down the digital road.

To ensure a sustainable growth in digitalisation, the PM suggested for Asean members to work together in enhancing laws and share expertise to ensure the security of the cyberspace.

“Technology has evolved at a rapid pace, and so have cyber threats and challenges.

“Consequently, there must be a mechanism to enable the existing laws to be applied in the cyberspace and new laws to be enacted if the need arises,” Muhyiddin said.

In Malaysia, a total of 838 cyber-security incidents were reported to CyberSecurity Malaysia between March 18 and April 7, 2020, when the government invoked the first Movement Control Order which heavily restricted movements around the country.

The number of reported incidents increased to a staggering 82.5% compared to the same time frame the previous year, with the majority of cases involving some form of cyber bullying, fraud or intruding into an unauthorised system. Up to October 2020, 9,042 reports of crimes, fraud and malicious codes were lodged, compared to only 8,770 cases in 2019.

Four years prior, the personal information of around 46 million mobile subscribers in Malaysia was leaked, including home addresses, national identification card numbers and SIM card information.

It was reported that the data breach took place in 2014, but was only discovered a year later.

This was due to the lack of data breach notification laws in the country, which require a company that has had its data breached to notify its customers.

Singapore had also fallen victim to cyberattacks. In 2017, its Ministry of Defence was cyber attacked in February and later in May suffered WannaCry Ransomware attacks. In June the same year, the ministry was cyber attacked by Petya Ransomware.

Currently, South-East Asia has an Internet penetration rate of 58%, which means that there are more than 370 million Internet users.

However, according to data from AT Kearney Inc, Asean member states are not spending enough to protect their citizens from cyberattacks.

In his speech, Muhyiddin expressed Putrajaya’s commitment and willingness to share its expertise and experiences with the Asean counterparts to ensure workable security objectives with a comprehensive plan and strategy.

According to LGMS/LE Global Services Sdn Bhd director Fong Choong Fook, it is pertinent for the region to share intelligence and collaborate in fighting cyber crime.

“For example, when a cyber criminal targets an Asean country, we would have an effective intelligence sharing, therefore other member countries would also be prepared,” he told The Malaysian Reserve yesterday.

Fong, however, disagreed that such collaboration should confine within the Asean region as cyberattacks from a single source could happen in multiple regions within a short span of time.

Fong also believes that the Malaysian government should prioritise the security aspects in spearheading digitalisation.

“We are eager to move from our traditional ways to online, but in doing so, we must bear in mind that security is the foundation.

“If security is not taken seriously, whatever effort that we put in can just collapse.

“I am of the view that it is still not taken seriously enough by the authority,” Fong added.