Thursday, June 20, 2024

Tulfo alarmed as DICT admits PH not ready for cyberattacks

Sen. Raffy Tulfo has expressed alarm over the country’s national security due to the lack of cybersecurity infrastructure and technology to counter present and future cyberthreats.

Sen. Raffy Tulfo
Photo from Senate

During the Finance Subcommittee Hearing on the proposed 2023 budget of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and its attached agencies on Tuesday, Sept. 20, Tulfo stressed that the Philippines is vulnerable to cyberattacks from foreign countries perceiving it as enemies.

“I fear for my country, I fear for our people, I fear for my family, na baka isang umaga ay magigising tayo na iba na ang takbo ng Pilipinas. It is possible for foreign hackers to launch widespread cyberattacks to countries they perceived as enemies to create chaos,” he said.

The lawmaker made the statement after representatives from the DICT and Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) confirmed that the Philippines has weak defenses against cyberthreats and attacks.

Tulfo cautioned DICT and CICC against the so-called “watering hole” technique, which is used by hackers to infect virus to computers that suppliers distribute to an intended target. Hackers would normally wait for the infected computers to be installed and call home before launching attacks.

He also warned them against a virus called “zombies,” which previously infested more than 730,000 American computers and turned them into slave computers that were used in cyberattacks.

Another cause of cybersecurity concern, Tulfo noted, is the group of hackers called Hidden Lynx, which has been linked to high-profile cyberattacks around the world. It has attacked tech companies such as Google, financial service providers, defense contractors, and government agencies, he said.

Considering all these, Tulfo stressed the need for the government to be extra cautious in procuring computers and other technological needs from foreign countries, saying it must not purchase from countries perceiving Philippines as an enemy.

Marami po ang maaapektuhan kapag nag-launch ang ibang bansa ng cyberattack against us. Kaya ng hackers sirain ang operations ng ating power grid, public utilities, government offices, and even military installations. Kaya dapat magiingat po tayo when it comes to procurement of computer systems,” he said.

Tulfo added that cyberattacks can affect railway trains, communications, and banking and financial institutions.

He warned that foreign hackers can also interfere in election process, just like what happened in the 2016 US election where there was widespread false and malicious information dissemination.

Tulfo further expressed alarm on the installation of cell towers partially owned by a foreign entity within the country’s military camps, as it poses serious national security threats.

Although DICT agreed that it may be a national security issue, they said that they were excluded on the committee that approved the installation of said cell towers.

Tulfo sounded the alarm considering that cyberattacks already happened in other more technologically advanced countries, citing the attack against Ukraine’s electric grid in 2015 and the cyberattack against British national health centers in 2017.

He also pointed out that foreign hackers launched cyberattacks on Aramco, a giant oil company in Saudi, in 2021.

If it happened in these countries, the senator said it can also happen in the Philippines. Amid the country’s weak defenses, Tulfo said he hopes that Congress would consider increasing the 2023 budget of the DICT and its attached agencies.

Dapat talagang taasan ang budget ninyo para maprotektahan ninyo ang ating cyberspace against cyberattacks. Para ito sa kapakanan ng sambayanang Pilipino at para maprotektahan ang ating national security,” he said.

Aside from strengthening defenses against cyber threats, Tulfo said the country needs to invest on Filipino “gifted IT experts” who are well-versed on anti-hacking practices.

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