PHL urged to prioritize pandemic cyber security

In this Feb. 17, 2016, file photo an iPhone is seen in Washington. At a time of widespread digital insecurity it turns out that the oldest and simplest computer fix there is — turning a device off then back on again — can thwart hackers from stealing information from smartphones. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The Philippines has been urged to pursue a more aggressive stance in prioritizing cyber security to achieve cyber resiliency.

“Looking at the Philippines’s unique cyber security landscape and how it is dealing with cyber attacks, it appears that the country is now in the intermediate stage of cyber security readiness. Intermediate-level countries are those that have identified cyber attacks as areas they need to look into and have attempted to make some inroads. The goal is to have the country move to the advanced stage where we hope to see it doing more in terms of development,” said Genie Gan, Head of Public Affairs and Government Relations for Asia Pacific and Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Kaspersky at a news briefing on Wednesday in Makati City. 

Just like its Southeast Asian counterparts , Gan said the past five years saw the Philippines being a prime target of various cyber threats ranging from web attacks, remote desktop protocol (RDP) attacks, and mobile malware.

Data from Kaspersky Security Network (KSN) show that web threat attempts against Filipino users of Kaspersky software grew 432.75% from 9,487,775 in 2017 to 50,544,908 in 2021. In Kaspersky’s global ranking of most attacked countries, the Philippines climbed from the 30th spot to 4th place in just five years.

Gan said the overall RDP attacks on local businesses rose by 141% from 2019 (2,549,698) to 2021 (6,150,891) when remote working became prevalent in response to the pandemic. RDP enables computers running Windows on the same corporate network to be linked together and accessed remotely, even when employees are at home. 

Although mobile malware attacks may have dropped sharply in the Philippines from 2019 to 2021 by 69%  Gan warned there are indications that Trojans are injected into third-party ad modules and new Trojans are being discovered —proof that cybercriminals have become creative and sophisticated in their approach. 

As far as the local government is concerned, legal policies and regulatory frameworks on cybersecurity have already been laid out and are currently in place. She said Kaspersky urges  the state to collaborate with its neighbors and private companies to further build its cyber-resiliency.

While  the cybersecurity landscape in the Philippines is distinct from the rest of SEA, Gan said it is still interconnected with its regional neighbors in so many ways. 

“This is why we encourage the government regulators to begin boosting its cyber capacity-building and cooperation efforts. These two are basically the building blocks of cybersecurity,” she said. 

Gan recommended the following specific action steps for the Philippines’ cybersecurity:

  1. Continuous promotion of security awareness and digital education for its more than 76 million users
  2. Growing its pool of cybersecurity talents
  3. Public-private partnerships
  4. Regional and international cooperation between countries and industries

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