Digital security is national and economic security

Digital security is national and economic security

Digital transformation is a good path to take to advance the economy — in fact it is the only path to grow the economy. Technology has become an indispensable part of Filipinos’ everyday lives, from making payments and purchases, to communicating with loved ones, to attending school and performing tasks at work. On a bigger scale, technology enables businesses to operate efficiently and expand rapidly. It also allows the government to deliver services better and run the affairs of the nation in an orderly and transparent fashion. President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is right to identify digital transformation as a priority of his administration.

But it is one thing to say we are pursuing digital transformation and quite another to make this happen. This is why the government is taking earnest steps to make investments in digital infrastructure flow more easily into the country. There are initiatives to improve the bureaucratic process so that the process of establishing digital infrastructure and connectivity would be more seamless, and so that more Filipinos would have access to better telecommunication services.

There is a menace, however, that seeks to negate all our initial gains and disrupt our way of life: cyberthreats.

Cyberattacks in the past have left varying degrees of damage. We saw the effects of the hacking of government agencies like the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., Philippine Statistics Authority, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, as well as Congress. In 2016, an election year, the website of the Commission on Elections was hacked. In other countries, attacks on critical infrastructure have caused massive disruption and untold difficulty for the people. Hackers have also profited from individual victims whose identities and assets were compromised. Their technological sophistication and lack of scruples makes these bad — often anonymous — actors feel emboldened with each attempt.

How, then, can we minimize this threat and make our nation and our economy resilient to the changing times?

The Stratbase ADR Institute kicked off 2024 with a two-day conference precisely to seek different ways we can achieve cyber-resilience. Today is the second day of the forum. We expect to hear more insights from representatives from the government, the private sector, the diplomatic community, and civil society on how to contain the threat to cybersecurity. The forum, entitled “Fortifying Cyber Cooperation Towards Digital Security,” was organized in partnership with the Embassy of Canada in the Philippines.

Canadian Ambassador David Hartman mentioned, as well, that this first major cybersecurity event of the year happens just as Canada and the Philippines mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations. He acknowledged that the current international order is under attack by malign actors that employ various methods to achieve their ends: by force, yes, as seen in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also through diverse sophisticated covert actions and spreading misinformation and disinformation. Any citizen with a smartphone is exposed to such threats, he said, and any individual and organization could be compromised.

The threat will increase given the high degree of anonymity, and with the availability of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Thus, working together is the only way countries can achieve resilience, Mr. Hartman said. He affirmed his country’s commitment to work alongside the Philippines — the Patient Zero of the misinformation and disinformation plague. A deliberate and coordinated whole-of-society approach will ensure an open, free, and secure cyberspace where states behave responsibly.

The Secretary of National Defense, Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro, gave the keynote address at the conference yesterday, and talked about the importance of being aware of our vulnerabilities. He said that our governance ideals of openness, transparency, and competitiveness are anathema to the actual realities of cybersecurity. Thus, he said, there is a need to transition to operational security, with a focus on security for individuals, the facility, the architecture, and observance of digital hygiene.

“There will be rogue actors in any organization,” he said, and they should be weeded out, dealt with properly, and made a public example of.

He also said the solutions are collaborative and long term, and the results should cover securing information to prevent the exploitation of children online.

I am thankful that a wide range of players from every sector of society recognizes the importance of cybersecurity to our digital transformation, and to our national security in general. In fact, the National Security Policy Framework 2023-2028 has identified cyber, information, and cognitive security as a national security interest and agenda.

The shared appreciation of the importance of digital security makes collaboration between the public and private sectors paramount. Indeed, increasingly, cybersecurity is taking a prominent place in conversations on security in general, alongside defense security and economic security. Our world is changing, it is now multi-polar and beset with both traditional and non-traditional threats. And, as always, we recognize that no single country and no single sector bears the full responsibility for this. It is cooperation that gave birth to the existing rules-based order, and it is cooperation that will ensure that this order is maintained.


Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.