Hackers expose Asia's weak defences against cyber attacks

Hackers expose Asia's weak defences against cyber attacks
Activist hacker group Anonymous is seen through the internet government website of Singapore Prime Minister Office circulated online on a smartphone in Singapore on November 7, 2013.

SINGAPORE - A rash of website hackings in the Asia-Pacific has exposed weak cyber defences that must be improved to help the region deal with more sophisticated and sinister threats, particularly from criminal organisations, analysts say.

Hackers claiming to be from the global activist group Anonymous compromised several government and commercial websites in Australia, the Philippines and Singapore recently, and vowed to mount wider attacks.

In the latest incident, Anonymous hackers on Thursday hijacked a section of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's official website, just a day after he vowed to "spare no effort" to hunt down anyone who attacks the regional financial centre's technological network.

Cloud computing, the proliferation of mobile devices and the increasing use of social media have allowed an escalating volume of data to flow through multiple channels, giving hackers a wider field to ply their trade, analysts say. They warn that Anonymous, which carries out attacks to highlight issues such as Internet freedom and corruption, is just one of the groups involved, and others with a more sinister agenda could inflict serious damage.

"The more sophisticated group that government and business should fear are the cyber-criminal organisations who have much greater resources at their disposal," said Mr Tan Shong Ye, information technology risk and cyber security leader at global business consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Their targets could be valuable intellectual property and critical infrastructure, including military and state secrets, Mr Tan told AFP. Shadowy hackers who have long targeted the West are turning their sights on Asia's fast-growing economies.

"As countries become wealthier, they have more assets and therefore are more likely to become targets," Ms said Nina Laven, director for economics and country risk at consultancy group IHS.

"We will likely see the region attracting more attacks," she told AFP.

South-east Asia and the wider Asia-Pacific region "are growing in significance in terms of cybersecurity issues" as Internet usage becomes more pervasive, said Ms Caitriona H. Heinl, a cyber security specialist at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore.

"These increasing levels of connectivity are raising the probabilities of cross-border cyber-related threats such as transnational cybercrime," she told AFP.

Research firm Euromonitor said there were more than 389 million smartphones and nearly 30 million tablets and other portable computers in the Asia-Pacific this year. Mobile Internet subscriptions alone reached over 712 million, it said.

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