Asia scrambles to put up defense amid global cyberattacks
Region dodges ransomware wave out of sheer luck
TAKASHI NAKANO, Nikkei staff writer
SINGAPORE -- Asian countries have managed to escape the global ransomware attacks over the weekend largely unscathed, but they are well aware of their vulnerabilities amid the growing popularity of smartphones and work culture in the region.
Responding to the news of the widespread cyberattacks, Thailand's National Reform Steering Assembly has proposed the immediate creation of a cybersecurity committee to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha. This national committee would have the power to access networks thought to have weak security in order to take preventative defensive measures.
Authorities in Singapore and Malaysia issued statements when the impact of ransomware attacks in the West was made known Saturday, informing citizens how to cope with the problem and saying they would take measures to prevent the damage from spreading.
Asia appears to have avoided major damage. But authorities responded quickly, aware that similar attacks could inflict widespread harm.
"Because of the timing of the first wave of emails that went out, it hit the Europeans first," said Nick Savvides, a security advocate for Asia-Pacific and Japan at U.S. cybersecurity company Symantec. By the following day, Savvides said, "more protections had been put in place by organizations" in Asia. The sense was that Asia had a lucky escape, not that the region was more secure than Europe in cyber defense.
Asian countries may be highly vulnerable to attacks targeting mobile phone apps, due to the rapidly spreading smartphone use. As corporations rushed to set up operational networks and individuals embraced new technology, cybersecurity "might have been an afterthought" for some of these emerging economies, Savvides said.
Some 81% of employees in countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations use personal computers and mobile devices for work, a survey by U.S. software company VMware found. In Singapore, half of surveyed employees did not follow or did not know their companies' rules on using personal devices.
Such careless use of information technology boosts the risk of malware infection. Ransomware like the programs used in the weekend cyberattacks presents a particular threat because of how quickly it moves "inside an environment, spreading automatically to other hosts in the same network and tak[ing] out a lot of computers at the same time," Savvides said.
Amid reports of other cyberattacks, including one on Bangladesh's central bank by a group possibly linked to North Korea, cybersecurity measures have become an urgent issue for both the private and public sectors in Asia.