Vietnam looks to bolster its internet censorship

By: Euan Black - Posted on: August 21, 2017 | Current Affairs

Cybersecurity concerns remain amid Communist Party’s muzzling of free speech

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang delivers remarks during at the APEC Summit 2017 at the National Great Theatre in Lima, Peru, 19 November 2016. Photo: EPA/Eduardo Cavero

Following the recent intensification of his country’s crackdown on political dissent, Vietnamese president Tran Dai Quang has argued for the need to develop a more robust internet censorship regime in an article published to a state media website.

Quang said enemies of the state had “undermined the prestige of the leaders of the party and the state, with a negative impact on cadres, party members and people” and that the country needed to ramp up its efforts to quash “news sites and blogs with bad and dangerous content”.

The president added that implementing tighter internet controls would protect the country from future cyber attacks similar to the WannaCry virus in May, and help to improve its subpar cybersecurity defences.

The statement comes just months after renowned activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as Mother Mushroom, became the latest in a long line of outspoken government critics and bloggers to be imprisoned for criticizing the country’s authoritarian Communist Party.

Quynh was arrested in October 2016 for “conducting propaganda against the state” under article 88 of the penal code in relation to her articles on environmental, social and political issues, including land confiscation, police brutality, and freedom of expression. In June 2017, she was sentenced to ten years in prison, a judgement that moved more than 1,000 people to petition for her release.

“The scandal here is not what Mother Mushroom said, but Hanoi’s stubborn refusal to repeal draconian, rights-abusing laws that punish peaceful dissent and tarnish Vietnam’s international reputation,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement at the time.

Vietnam’s cybersecurity was ranked 101st out of 195 countries in the Global Security Index 2017 compiled by the UN International Telecommunication Union – making it the least secure in Southeast Asia. In January, Microsoft said Vietnam was infected by more than double the worldwide average amount of malware, making it the second most vulnerable country in the world to such threats.

However, despite the country’s seemingly weak cybersecurity defences, a report by cybersecurity firm FireEye released in May found that the Vietnamese government had been soliciting its own corporate espionage campaign. The US-based cybersecurity firm found that hackers working on behalf of the state were spying on multinationals operating in the country, as well as hacking into the computers of Vietnamese dissidents and journalists.

“All the activity we have seen is of interest to the nation of Vietnam,” Nick Carr, senior manager of FireEye’s Mandiant Incident Response team, told Reuters prior to the report’s release. He added that the hackers “could do a lot of damage or could have a lot of impact on the organizations’ competitive advantage, their ability to successfully navigate investigations and regulations.”

Vietnam’s foreign ministry refuted the report’s findings.