Asia Pacific nations are facing rising challenges posed by cybercrime and security breaches amid escalating economic costs from cyber attacks.
Regional businesses and governments say policy reforms are needed against a backdrop of a fast changing technological landscape and mounting vulnerabilities to cyber crime.
Singapore has taken the regional lead to boost cyber security within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as promoting the island state’s technical resources.
In October 2016, Singapore hosted the inaugural ASEAN Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity, announcing new initiatives to boost ASEAN’s capacity to deal with cyber threats.
U.S.-based Honeywell, backed by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), is to set up a new industrial cybersecurity center of excellence for Asia Pacific. It will also feature development laboratories and advanced training in security services.
In June, Singapore and Australia signed a cooperation agreement to stem cybercrime, with Australia also signing pacts to boost cooperation with Thailand and China.
Australia’s Ambassador for Cybercrime, Tobias Feakin, in Bangkok for official talks with the Thai Government, said regional cooperation was vital in the face of growing challenges posed by cybercriminal networks in Asia.
“Criminals and nefarious actors can adapt and absorb all [this information] so much quicker than governments. So if we’re not talking about it, sharing best practice and keeping on the move as well then we will soon find ourselves behind by a quite a margin,” Feakin told VOA.
A 2016 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned cybercrime was growing in the Asia Pacific region, and evolving from an emerging threat to a criminal enterprise.
The UNODC said cybercrime – or internet-related crime – includes identity theft, crime, scams facilitated through email and social networking sites, sex offenses and fraud, and can ensnare victims through social media websites and mobile phones as well as standard internet sites.
UNODC Bangkok-based cyber technology analyst, Alexandru Caciuloiu said transnational crime accounts for the largest segment in cyber crime.
“We have all types – we have the criminal element – which I say is the biggest part. Of course we have the corporate to corporate [hacking] – there is also the nation state – there are many players in this area. So in terms of the criminal element of course, they’re always trying to leverage with the new technology,” Caciuloiu said.
High profile cyberattacks have raised the awareness for the need for improved safety and security. The May unleashing by computer hackers of the WannaCry ransom malware affected 200,000 organizations in 150 countries, including Thailand.
An executive with cybersecurity company, Trend Micro, was reported saying online extortion attacks had “increased dramatically”, with criminal elements causing millions of dollars in losses.
In the Philippines, security analysts said businesses needed to step up security measures against cyber crimes and increasing global threats.
In late May, reports said Vietnam-linked hackers had been targeting Philippines government agencies to gather intelligence related to the maritime dispute in the South China Sea.
Australia, in pressing for an agreement with China, had accused China-based businesses of on-line intellectual property theft.
“China is a huge economic partner [with Australia],” said Ambassador Feakin. “There are some areas – there is some differences and the fact that we got to a point of signing an agreement, which said we agree to not conduct cyber enabled intellectual property that, I think that’s a good point.”
UNODC’s Caciuloiu said the challenge for South East Asia lies in the economic disparities in wealth and capacities to address the cybersecurity problems.
“There are some countries where I will say they are very focused on cybersecurity, but some others there’s a pretty big lack of awareness within the government(s),” he said.
International consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), in its 2017 Global State of Information Security Survey, called for a “unified front against cybercriminals” including collaboration and information sharing to enable organizations to understand risks with effective methods of response.
Exponential increase in mobile phone use and tablet devices have added to the risks.
“Cyber risk now encompasses more than our traditional view of computers a more than our traditional view of computers,” including increased attacks involving the so-called Internet of Things from cars to household devices.
“Over the next decade, both the motivation and opportunity for malicious attacks on business and government will soar,” PwC said.
Australia’s Feakin said there was a need to ensure development and increased connectivity are not hamstrung by a lack of international collaboration at all levels.
“In this region we need more of that. Our concern would always be if we don’t make sure that the threats a managed, then that’s the danger we miss out on that golden opportunity,” he said.
In a recent commentary, Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum at the Center for Security Studies, said the 2015 cost estimates of cybercrimes in the Asia Pacific stood at $81 billion, with the number of incidents growing.