Cyberattacks expected to increase this year — DICT

Cyberattacks expected to increase this year — DICT

By Ashley Erika O. Jose, Reporter

CYBERATTACKS in the Philippines are expected to further increase as attackers will take advantage of the expanding digital economy, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said on Tuesday.

“We expect more of that [cyberattacks] to happen. The cyber landscape is growing and as it grows, then the economic potential of that sector is also increasing. If there is more economic activity there, there is more that cybercriminals can [take advantage of],” DICT Secretary Ivan John E. Uy told reporters on the sidelines of a cybersecurity forum on Tuesday. 

The Philippines’ digital economy has been on the rise, with its value expected to reach as high as $150 billion by 2030, mainly driven by e-commerce, according to the e-Conomy report issued by Google, Temasek Holdings and Bain & Company last year. 

“The incidence of cyberattacks will continue to increase due to continuing digitization and digital transformation of businesses. These organizations, mostly MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), are most vulnerable due to lack of resources,” Sam Jacoba, founding president of the National Association of Data Protection Officers, said in a Viber message to BusinessWorld. 

Mr. Jacoba said the overall weakness of the country’s information infrastructure makes it easy for attackers to infiltrate.

“Due to this, threat actors have a bigger playing field to operate and exploit individual and collective vulnerabilities, and to advance their interests,” he said.

Philippines-based organizations have suffered an estimated $1 million in losses in the past 12 months due to cybersecurity incidents, according to connectivity cloud company Cloudflare, Inc.

Mr. Uy said the DICT is currently studying the country’s economic losses due to cybercrimes, adding that the agency is hoping to release the report soon.

“Criminals operate in a city where there are more e-commerce, digital payments, e-wallets and online accounts because there will be more potential victims for them. They will now be looking at this hoard and see how much they can extract,” Mr. Uy said.

Citing a report of consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the Asia Foundation said the Philippines could incur up to P200 billion in economic losses per year due to cybercrime.   

“It is continually changing, for instance in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region last year, based on our reports cybercrime hit almost $1-trillion losses,” Mr. Uy said.

“Since we are expecting more online transactions that are going to happen, there will be more criminal organizations that will be expected to exploit the cyber landscape.”

The Philippines is also working with the government of Canada on efforts to combat cyberattacks.

“There are many areas of collaboration between Philippines and Canada, the [two countries] can work together in building up better coordination, information sharing and better ways of addressing the growing threat in the cyber sphere,” Mr. Uy said. 

Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. said the Philippines and Canada are set to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) within the first quarter. This MoU will cover defense cooperation and strengthening cybersecurity.

“Canada is a stalwart friend and partner of the Philippines. We want to be able to work with our friends and partners to advance and enhance the Philippine capacity to protect its people,” David Hartman, ambassador of Canada to the Philippines said.

“Our government has committed incremental funding to be able to provide some assistance to partners like the Philippines,” he added.

Canadian Centre for Cyber Security head Sami Khoury said critical infrastructure like network systems, transportation and energy systems may be affected by the growing threats as attackers are also getting more sophisticated.

“It’s all connected, not just the government. Even the private sector will be affected, critical infrastructures may also be affected. Cybercrime has a devastating impact on society,” Mr. Khoury said.

Aside from the danger that digitization poses on critical key infrastructures, the government should also address threats of cyber espionage.

“It’s a real threat. I mean, traditional espionage is still around. And some have moved to the cyber landscape. So, we need to recognize that it is a real threat. Some of it is directed against the government,” Mr. Khoury said.

He said “traditional spy games” have been directed against the private sector where attackers are stealing private information.

“They would then be embarking on cyber espionage to try to steal that intellectual property, it is a real threat that we have to face and also, emerging technology terms of artificial intelligence,” Mr. Khoury said.

While acknowledging that artificial intelligence (AI) could be used maliciously, Mr. Khoury said that its benefits will possibly outweigh risks.

“We have to educate ourselves as AI brings a lot of opportunities for making us better, for automating many things,” he said.

“Our job is to educate Canadians about the risks that come also with AI. We are working with the private sector to make sure that when they develop AI capabilities, security is built into the mindset,” he added.