Cybersecurity aid to emerging markets needs calibration

Offering aid in the form of expertise and technology to Asia's emerging markets may help curb cybercrime from these places, but it should be delivered according to the country's IT maturity level.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

Offering aid in terms of expertise and financial resources to Asia's developing markets to bolster their cybersecurity regimes may be beneficial to stem the growing number of Internet scams from these markets. How much aid to be administered needs to be calibrated according to the local industry's level of maturity, though.

Alan Chong, associate professor of global information flow politics at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University's S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said today's online crimes do not respect geographical or political borders and many cybercriminals who target developed economies usually come from emerging markets. They do so because developed markets are usually more prosperous and hence make good targets, he noted.

Offering expertise and technology aid to Asia's emerging markets may help curb cybercrime from these places, but should be delivered according to the country's IT maturity level.

It's not just the developed markets which are at risk from the growing acts of online crimes.

David Harley, senior research fellow at ESET Security, said developing markets such as China and India have been attracting big companies, including tech vendors, to their shores in recent times. These established companies would also attract the attention of hackers and the weaker IT infrastructure in these markets may make it easier for these multinational companies to be attacked, he explained.

As such, if these emerging markets are not able to clamp down on Internet crimes and no help is rendered to them, this would have a negative "rippling effect" in the region, Chong observed.

Sophos' latest "Dirty Dozen" list, which details the world's top spam-relaying countries, found India topping the charts. A large number of emerging countries such as Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Turkey, Vietnam, and China all made it to the top 12 countries, too.

Start with "soft" foreign aid"
In terms of how the aid, whether in terms of IT expertise or financial support, should be administered, Chong said it is best the contributing countries or international organizations "take it slow" and offer "soft" foreign aid instead.

Explaining further, he said "soft" foreign aid refers to providing the expertise to build up the emerging market's IT infrastructure. While the hackers may have the means to conduct their online crimes, the official governing and enforcement agencies in emerging markets do not have the necessary skills or tools to clamp down on these illegal activities, he said.

For the developed economies providing aid to the emerging markets, he advised them to start by conduct IT courses locally and teach simple things such as setting up Web portals which can have a multiplying effect on the economy and improving the lot of future generations.

Only after the local IT community has gained a broader understanding and competency of current technologies can they be trained in cybersecurity skills, such as checking on system integrity and troubleshooting, Chong added.

"[Countries and enterprises] must know what the appropriate IT dosage for developing countries is. Too much medicine will kill or backfire, and too little will not work," he stressed.

Harley also pointed out the potential for abuse for aiding these developing markets. He said once the skills and infrastructure has been strengthened, the emerging market may choose to turn its attentions to harm those that have helped them.

The flipside could be those involved in offering aid with technology and manpower expertise could enlarge their presence in the country to the point where they can influence business or political decisions, he added.

"In the real world, chances are that such aid will come with strings attached," Harley said.

Furthermore, the governments of developed nations may feel that money is better spent bolstering their own security and, indirectly their economy, rather than subsidizing the development of another country, he noted.

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