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Asean ministers discuss Europol equivalent in Singapore

Governments in Southeast Asia are considering setting up a regional equivalent of Europol to help fight cyber crime

When Singapore unveiled its national action plan for cyber crime at the recent RSA conference in the city-state, it also mooted a Europol-style Aseanpol to fight cyber crime in the region.

Singapore already hosts Interpol’s global headquarters for cyber crime (the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation). Now it wants to create an Asean-wide organisation to combat cyber crime in Southeast Asia.

Analyst firm IDC predicted that cyberattacks will force businesses in Asia Pacific to increase spending by 35% or more by 2019 to mitigate supply chain risks. At the same time, data breach incidents will go up. By 2020, more than 1.5 billion people will be affected by data breaches, adding to pressure for regulation and alternative authentication measures.

Singapore’s home affairs minister K Shanmugam revealed the city-state’s intentions in July when he unveiled a national cyber crime action plan at the annual RSA conference Asia-Pacific and Japan.

Shanmugam said that every aspect of our lives is now plugged into the internet and the cloud, which makes us vulnerable to cyber crime. “It goes beyond financial loss to include drug trafficking, child pornography and many other illegal activities,” he reportedly said.

Scams on the up

According to the police database, Singapore alone had 3,759 cases of e-commerce cheating, credits-for-sex and internet love scams in 2015, which is double the number for the previous year.

Given the cross-border nature of cyber crime, the Singapore government has proposed a two-year Asean cyber capacity development project. Funded by the government of Japan through the Japan-Asean Integration Fund (JAIF) 2.0, and targeted at Asean member states, the project aims to strengthen the region’s ability to fight cyber crime, and to promote cooperation between Asean, Japan and Interpol. This project will be implemented in the second half of this year.

It has been reported that cabinet ministers from Asean countries held a closed-door meeting to discuss the creation of an “Aseanpol” organisation.

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Urgent need to combat cyber crime

“We are talking about 5 or 6 billion devices in the world today,” said Bill Taylor, vice president and general manager, Asia Pacific and Japan, at LogRhythm, who attended the RSA conference. “It will be about 25 billion in seven years’ time. “Why is it that the $470bn cyber crime market is addressed only by IT departments, and not security agencies that look after crimes such as human trafficking, migrant trafficking, and the drugs and arms trades? The government is trying to put together agencies to tackle cyber crime now.”  

Charles Lim, cyber security industry principal at marker researcher Frost & Sullivan, said: “While police forces across borders in Asia have collaborated on areas of fighting crime over the years, the idea of Aseanpol/Asiapol may be seen as a step to formally establish the required mandate that police teams will need to collaborate closely, especially in the context of arresting cyber criminals promptly when they conduct their illegal activities online. Asiapol can also be the main point of contact to facilitate the communications and collaboration activities with other agencies such as Europol and Interpol.”

Sean Duca, regional chief security officer at Palo Alto Networks, welcomed the issue being discussed between nations and the support for forming a Europol-like organisation. “Any type of collaboration and sharing of cyber threat information is likely to have an impact on cyber actors, hopefully discouraging others and driving the price of launching successful cyberattacks up.

“The faster the respective nations can share information, the better we can serve to protect each other by acting upon the information and pushing the cost back to cybersecurity adversaries, who have been sharing tools, exploits and attack methods for many years now.”

Asiapol obstacles

Duca added:The challenges most likely will centre around cooperation between countries involved in fighting cross-border threats. The other aspects will include timeliness in dealing with cyber criminals, operational jurisdiction and responsibilities.”

Cathy Huang, research manager at IDC, said it will be more challenging to put all the Asian countries together to form an alliance than to form an Asean-based alliance, which would have a much more aligned ideology and interests.

“The Aseanpol alliance will certainly benefit many fast-developing and less developed markets, such as Bangladesh and Laos, in combating cyber crime and even potential cyber terrorism fronts,” Huang said.

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