“Fortifying Cybersecurity for a Seamless ASEAN Connected to the World”

“Fortifying Cybersecurity for a Seamless ASEAN Connected to the World”

“Seamlessly connected” is how ASEAN aspires to facilitate and expand people-to-people interactions among its diverse population and build a common community with a shared sense of ownership. Beyond transportation linkages, ASEAN views digital connection as indispensable in this endeavour. At least, its online community should enable people to be more connected, and build bonds beyond the borders of ASEAN.

But in reality, not everything in the digital world is trustworthy. Fake news, spam mail and malware are some of the contaminated data that can spread easily from one corner of the world to another in just a click. Cybersecurity has therefore become a new cause of common concern among ASEAN Member States. There is an urgency for ASEAN to work together to speed up its preparation to cope with the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR that will disrupt every aspect of our lives. 

Compared to other categories of security, cybersecurity affects us much more directly than we can imagine. The internet enables us to transact almost anything online while the advent of big data has made it possible to digitize, store and analyse every bit of our personal data from womb to tomb. A breach into the system will inevitably compromise our privacy and safety. This complex issue requires a political commitment and collaboration between all stakeholders across borders to combat it effectively. 

Last year, ASEAN leaders expressed their commitment, as reflected in the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on Cybersecurity Cooperation, adopted at the 32nd ASEAN Summit in Singapore. To realize such commitments, Thailand has been cooperating actively with other ASEAN Member States and the international community. For instance, on 14 September 2018, Thailand made a soft launch of the ASEAN-Japan Cybersecurity Capacity Building Centre in Bangkok to serve as a training centre to build the capacity of public authorities and information infrastructure companies in ASEAN. The Centre will conduct cyber defence exercises, digital forensics and malware analysis, and be one of the seven centres officially inaugurated during Thailand’s 2019 Chairmanship.

As the Chair of ASEAN, Thailand has organised knowledge sharing events on 4IR and cybersecurity. These knowledge-sharing conferences are one of many steps towards bridging the public and private sectors in cybersecurity, and laying a firm foundation for public - private partnership to combat cybersecurity threats. 

In January 2019, the Ministry of Commerce of Thailand and the ASEAN Secretariat organized the “Special Session on 4IR.” In March 2019, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society hosted the ASEAN Digital Ministers’ Retreat. More recently, in May 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society of Thailand, co-hosted the “International Conference on Cybersecurity: Implications on Peace and Security in the ASEAN Region.” At this conference, H.E. Mr. Chaisiri Anamarn, Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, delivered the opening remarks and highlighted that as “digital vulnerabilities have been widely exploited by criminal groups,” promoting cybersecurity must be a “whole of nation endeavour and at the regional level, requires a whole of ASEAN approach.” 

What we learned from the most recent International Conference on Cybersecurity in May, is that stepping up security awareness at the government level is essential. More specifically, governments need to understand the risks involved, so that they can expand awareness and disseminate information to the general public. In addition, governments should be able to educate the society in laymen terms, and to determine how to address different target groups, such as university students, and employees of government agencies and private sector, so that they may know how to protect themselves against cyber threats.

It is encouraging that ASEAN has several mechanisms on cybersecurity. This includes ASEAN Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity (AMCC), ASEAN Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministers’ Meeting (TELMIN), ARF Inter-Sessional Meeting on Security of and in the Use of Information and Communication Technologies, and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting with Dialogue Partners (ADMM-Plus). These ASEAN-centred platforms reflect efforts to develop a regional framework to cope with cybersecurity challenges, to share best practices and to come up with a joint plan, as well as to establish a common ground for the development of voluntary norms to guide state behaviour. 

Combatting cybersecurity is a shared responsibility for sustainable security and economic development. Countries around the world are keen to embrace opportunities of the digital age and get on board the digital economy, yet they must be aware of the threats involved and how technology can also be applied to operate military attacks and cybercrime. 

In February 2019, Thailand passed the Cybersecurity Act to protect the country’s Critical Information Infrastructures (CIIs). CIIs refer to computers and computer systems used by government agencies or the private sector to protect national security or provide essential services, such as finance and banking, energy and healthcare. This list will be eventually expanded to cope with cybersecurity threats more effectively.

Thailand has a vision of “Advancing” the Community to the future towards a digital ASEAN and is fully aware that digital technology and cybersecurity will   contribute to the success of all the three pillars of ASEAN. By sharing knowledge and raising awareness in this field, ASEAN is gradually, yet steadily moving closer to becoming a digitalized Community in more aspects ranging from Smart Cities to digital economy for the benefits of the whole region. Moreover, ASEAN can fulfill these objectives successfully while being mindful and cautious of the challenges that it can face.

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