SPC: Pacific Islands NOT Ready for Cybercrime

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Suva, Fiji – Most countries in the Pacific region are vulnerable to the threat of cybercrime.

‘This is primarily because of a lack of proper legislation and understanding of the danger posed by these crimes. Unfortunately this is a global problem affecting all countries that have access to mobile phones and Internet technology,’ said Siaosi Sovaleni, Manager, Pacific ICT Outreach (PICTO) programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

ICT is the acronym for information and communication technology.

Mr Sovaleni stressed the need to raise awareness about this vulnerability, and the need to develop measures and an appropriate legislative framework that criminalises the use of ICT for illegal purposes.

‘SPC’s efforts are focused on capacity building and technical assistance to the region’s policy-makers and legislators through the PICTO programme,’ he said. He noted that six of the larger Pacific Island countries have mobile teledensity (the percentage of subscribers out of the overall population) of 50% or more. Furthermore, most of the Pacific has close to 10% Internet usage.

‘This means that nearly 50% of these countries’ populations are potential victims of cybercrime.’

[Law enforcement agencies are developing their awareness of cyber crime]

Mr Sovaleni explained that while ICT has become increasingly useful to governments to support development, the flip side is that criminals are using the same tools to conduct their activities more efficiently and effectively.

E-Government, or use of ICT to provide government services, can extend the reach of governments, allowing them to be online 24 hours, seven days a week.

But while this is being welcomed there is an increased danger that governments can be open to the theft, for example, of patient records kept as a part of e-Health initiatives or of vital statistics stored in new immigration systems.

Governments need to ensure that confidential information is secure and that there is legislation in place to address illegal activities that attempt to exploit it.

Mr Sovaleni said that easier access to mobile phones and the Internet has substantially expanded possibilities for crime. Areas of concern include child pornography, cyber-bullying and the theft of money by stealing bank account numbers and credit card details.

He said that the list of cybercrime is extensive.

‘To encourage people to use ICT, governments must have mechanisms to make sure that their privacy is protected.

‘At present only Tonga has legislation that makes it a criminal offense to use ICT for illegal purposes. Other countries in the region are beginning to address these threats through legislation, but it appears not to be sufficient to effectively block the illegal activity,’ he said.

‘With the rapid rate of change in ICT, even the developed countries are continuously working to keep abreast of the situation with appropriate legislation and new strategies.’

In its Cyber-crime Report 2011 covering 24 countries, Symantec estimated that globally, cybercrime cost approximately USD 388 billion, and that about 70% of adult users of technology have experienced cybercrime.

‘To be effective in our fight against cybercrime, we need to not only enact the appropriate legislation, but at the same time build capacity in our law enforcement agencies to be able to enforce the laws. We also need to educate the judiciary and prosecutors about the reach of cybercrime and ICT in general.’

Mr Sovaleni said that SPC is working with international agencies as well as government ministries responsible for ICT, telecommunication companies, offices of attorneys general and police departments in the region to prevent cybercrime.