By Angeline Marcelino, October 20, 2023;

MANILA, Philippines — The government was pressed to urgently make the country’s cyber defenses strong and protected by increasing investments in cybersecurity.

International think-tank Stratbase Institute said Friday that achieving a fortified cyber defense must be a government priority because cyber criminals who prey on “easy targets” have become “cunning and sophisticated.”

The group’s call came after government systems and web pages suffered a series of virtual assaults by hackers in the last few weeks.

“It’s clear that fortifying our cyber defenses should be a priority, particularly for critical infrastructure across both public and private sectors. This proactive approach to cybersecurity is a necessary step in safeguarding against the ever-evolving threat of cybercrime,” Stratbase CEO and founder Dindo Manhit said in a statement.

According to Manhit, solid cybersecurity is an essential investment as it builds trust among stakeholders and ensures uninterrupted operations and services and safeguarded data.

He suggested that the government engage with the private sector telcos and cybersecurity providers in developing a comprehensive and strategic approach to cybersecurity investments.

Statbase Institute said that although an International Trade Administration survey in 2020 reported that 43% of private companies in the Philippines increased their investments in cybersecurity, a lot more still needs to be done.

It also cited Cisco’s Cybersecurity Readiness Index released in March, which revealed that only 27% of organizations in the Philippines have a mature level of readiness to face modern cybersecurity risks.

The group then mentioned the cyberattacks on the websites of government agencies. Hackers recently invaded the systems and web pages of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, the Philippine Statistics Authority, and the Department of Science and Technology.

PhilHealth admitted that it failed to renew its virus protection software. Its system was breached by clandestine group Medusa, affecting the data of millions of its members.

On October 15, hackers calling themselves “3MUSKETEERZ” defaced the website of the House of Representatives.

“Our government’s capacity to ward off such attacks is being tested, and we seem to be failing that test,” Manhit said.

Manhit pointed out that every agency and organization must have chief information security officers who will maintain the most robust and appropriate protection of internet systems and pages against hackers. He said chief information security officers will instill a “cyber hygienic culture” in all their network users.

“It’s essential to enhance our existing talent pool and elevate the expertise of our IT professionals. We should also consider engaging the services of ethical hackers to bolster our cybersecurity frameworks,” Manhit said.

The group founder further noted that more Filipinos should be made aware of the existing data protection law in the country to empower them against cyberattacks.

“Filipinos are known for being active social media users, but sadly, it does not translate to a high level of awareness of cybersecurity risks, much less the capacity to protect themselves against these,” Manhit said.

“Our efforts at being a technology-powered economy and a digitally enabled nation will amount to nothing if our individuals and our organizations do not have the necessary tools to protect ourselves from attackers.”

“Efforts to minimize the impact of data breaches have been acknowledged; these efforts [must] be intensified given the rising complexity and frequency of digital threats. There is an urgent need for increased investment and resources to effectively combat the escalating cyber threats,” he added.