USAID, spouse intention to lend a hand spice up PHL cybersecurity 

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

THE United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and global cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks recently signed a partnership deal to help the Philippines strengthen its cybersecurity posture.

The alliance is expected to boost e-commerce and other digital services in the country by increasing customer confidence, Palo Alto Networks officials said during a briefing in Mandaluyong City on Tuesday.

USAID and Palo Alto Networks hope to achieve the goal by increasing customer confidence through awareness and promotion of safe computing practices, as well as the adoption of international standards.

“Governments are modernizing their networks to take advantage of digital innovations and improve the way they communicate with citizens,” said Oscar Visaya, Palo Alto Networks country manager for the Philippines.

“As they modernize their IT infrastructure, their cybersecurity must keep pace with these developments,” he added.

The company said that it will work with USAID to develop programs and activities and provide technical assistance and expert advisory to help realize the vision.

They envision an efficient, robust, and secure digital ecosystem to support the country’s digital transformation.

They hope to speed up the adoption and implementation of a “zero trust framework,” an approach to cybersecurity that helps “secure an organization by eliminating implicit trust and continuously validating every stage of digital interaction,” Palo Alto Networks said.

Government data showed 37% of online users in the country reported cyberattacks in 2020.

At least 73% of consumer data from micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises were lost to attackers, greater than the 56% figure in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to cybersecurity firm Sophos, the Philippines placed third in worldwide ransomware payments in 2021, with local organizations paying an average of $1.6 million, doubling the country’s average of $820,000 in 2020.

“The MoU (memorandum of understanding) that was signed, a lot of it focuses on capacity development side and individual levels, so we’ve heard about some of the training programs with Palo Alto, cybersafety programs, and professional development … and there are good practice frameworks and standards that we are also working with our partners,” said John Garrity, chief of party of USAID’s Better Access and Connectivity project.

“There are ways to come together to address these challenges through a multistakeholder approach from capacity building for organizations and individuals,” he added.

Mary Rose E. Magsaysay, deputy executive director at the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center, noted that the costs of cybersecurity capacity development are generally “unreachable.”

At the same time, she confirmed that foreign crime syndicates are responsible for the recent text scams.

She added that text scams have cost victims in the Philippines “millions of dollars.”

The government and the country’s telecommunications companies need more smishing and phishing alerts, she noted.

Meanwhile, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) announced on Tuesday that the Philippines was recently re-elected to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Council in Bucharest, Romania.

It said 193 member states of the ITU selected 48 states to lead the council.

“The Philippines is among the 13 states selected from Region E (Asia and Australia), along with Australia, Bahrain, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates,” the DICT said in a statement.

“The country commits to work towards the fulfillment of the ITU’s mandate to make the digital future inclusive and more accessible for everyone, especially in developing countries,” it added.

The department also said that it is expected to lead the country’s involvement in discussions and decision-making that will “significantly affect” the member states’ digital agenda.

“The department also enjoins the support and collaboration of government agencies to achieve its goals as a council member,” it noted.

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