As cyber crime becomes a growing concern for governments and businesses, Southeast Asia Globe talks to Wahab Yusof, McAfee’s vice president in Southeast Asia, about the region’s responses
Interview by David Hutt
With cyber crime making the headlines frequently in past few months, in an alleged North Korean attack on the computers of Sony and new documents released by Edward Snowden delving further into the murky world of the US’s National Security Agency. But with more than 190 million internet users in Southeast Asia, what does cyber crime mean to the region?
Do you think that Southeast Asian countries are prepared for cyber-attacks?
Countries in Southeast Asia are definitely more aware of cyber threats now. Greater connectivity and access to high-speed networks has facilitated the growth of cyber crime and understanding the rising risks, countries in the region are not only individually working on ways to educate and protect their themselves, they have come together with the support of businesses like McAfee, to enhance collaboration to create a secure business environment. For example, the recent Seventh Asean-Japan Cyber Security Policy Meeting was just held in early October for that purpose.
How does cyber crime affect the economies of Southeast Asian countries?
A Center for Strategic and International Studies and McAfee study concluded that cyber crime costs businesses approximately $400 billion worldwide. It is worrying how much cyber crime costs economies around the world, including Asean. The estimated annual economic losses due to cyber criminals for Singapore alone amounts to as high as $1.25 billion Singapore dollars.
On the other hand, with greater collaboration between nations, and improved public-private partnerships, Asean can help economies avoid losses and enable robust, digitally enabled growth for a generation of people in the region. The technology exists to keep financial information and intellectual property safe, and when we do so, we create efficiencies and opportunities for positive economic growth and job creation worldwide.
How will the creation of the Asean Economic Community affect cyber crime in the region?
The Asean Economic Community (AEC) itself is aiming to create a stronger regional economic community that will strengthen the overall economy of Southeast Asia. Cyber crimes in Southeast Asia represent a growing threat to banks and other industries, for example e-commerce, as growing and flourishing economies are more likely to become the victim of an attack. It is, therefore, highly important for the individual members to support and enforce transnational security guidelines that will ensure the AEC’s security.
As early as October 2001, cyber crime was included in the Asean Plan of Action to Combat Transnational Crime. Industries and also politicians in Southeast Asia are well aware of the danger cyber crime poses. In 2012, McAfee also expanded its business to the region to confront the expected rise in cyber crime. Keeping in mind the fast development of online businesses and technologies, industries in cooperation with governments and transnational organizations in Southeast Asia and around the world need to constantly improve and develop their security postures.
To what extent are cyber criminals in Southeast Asia a threat to countries outside the region?
Cyber space generally draws countries closer, enables them to interact faster, economies depend on each other. Harming major international players such as the US, Japan, Asean or Europe would certainly affect trading partners and depending economies. Furthermore, many foreign investors and businesses are already present or are currently setting foot in Southeast Asia to grow their businesses, establishing international partnerships that support the willingness to fund and support cyber-security in Southeast Asia. Additionally, Japan was involved in the first SOMTC Working Group on Cybercrime earlier this year in Singapore.
Forecasting China’s role is difficult, but the nation has the largest number of internet users and a very robust economy. A secure internet is as much an imperative for China as it is for any other nation.
There has been controversy in some countries, such as Cambodia and Malaysia, that cyber crime legislation can be used to silence dissent and limit freedom of speech; how does a country go about introducing cyber crime legislation that does not impact on democratic rights?
I can’t speak about the details of cyber security legislation in these countries as the details of such policy efforts change so often. Generally speaking, I believe in the ability of technology to enable and connect the productive capacities of citizens. A free, open and secure internet is an imperative for any government working towards economic growth. McAfee supports four key areas of cyber security public policy. Greater information sharing between government and private sector and liability protections for corporations to make that sharing possible, incentives for stronger corporate security investments, cyber security technology research and development, programmes to develop larger and a more skilled IT security workforce.
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