Cyber wrap
4 Feb 2015|

There’s been a wave of regional cyber policy activity in recent weeks. We’ll start in Singapore where the government launched a central agency to consolidate and centralise cybersecurity capabilities. The national Cyber Security Agency will begin operating on 1 April and is headed by David Koh, deputy secretary of technology at the Ministry of Defence. The agency falls under the Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim, who’s been given the ministry in charge of cyber security. For those interested in a breakdown of staff and responsibilities, Irene Tham at The Straits Times provides a good overview. Meanwhile, Prashanth Parameswaran over at The Diplomat looks at the threat picture, industry collaboration, and building a more resilient regional cyber security regime in time for the ASEAN Community 2015.

China’s ‘cybersecurity review regime’ is generating significant anxiety in the US business community, particularly the high-tech and banking sectors. Paul Mozur in The New York Times explains how ‘the [Chinese] government has adopted new regulations requiring companies that sell computer equipment to banks to turn over secret source code and submit to invasive audits’. It’s not the first time China has promoted these types of policies. But Adam Segal at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that this time is different. First, the policy comes from the top—from the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs no less, which is chaired by President Xi Jinping, and includes Premier Li Keqiang and ideological linchpin Liu Yunshan. In addition, companies have been told they cannot opt out.

China’s policies are partly a response to concerns that US intelligence agencies had intercepted and installed malware into products destined for China—a concern Beijing saw as validated in Glenn Greenwald’s 2014 release. Others argue that China’s policies are both a form of discriminatory trade policy designed to bolster its own indigenous high-tech industry and a means to better control information within its borders. For more on China’s Internet policies China Digital Times has some interesting perspectives, here and here.

It’s fiscal budget time for the White House and cybersecurity’s a winner. The Obama administration has earmarked US$14 billion to support government-wide efforts to defend the country against cyberattacks. That’s one billion more than in previous years. The 2016 budget also sets aside US$105 million for agencies to establish a digital service team to bring tech-sector expertise to agencies’ information technology. Other initiatives include a Civilian Cyber Campus, meant to spur public–private partnerships. The Pentagon has unveiled its US$585 billion budget, with officials suggesting US$5.5 billion of funding for cybersecurity, a ‘key capability area’.

In Thailand, there’s been growing concern from Internet rights groups about freedom of speech and privacy online. Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thailand’s PM and junta chief, has insisted that the National Cyber Security Bill is necessary to ‘protect national security and empower state officials to investigate’. A draft bill has been leaked by activists with attention being drawn to Section 35, under which authorities can allegedly access individuals’ personal data without court orders. In a sensible statement to university students, coordinator of the Thai Netizen Network Arthit Suriyawongkul said ‘power without scrutiny or checks and balances is very risky and unnecessary’. There’re calls to hold the cyber security bills until a democratically-elected parliament has returned.

And to wrap up this week, are cryptocurrencies dying? Charts of Bitcoin, Peercoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin and Darkcoin show a steady decline in price. New competitors aren’t faring so well either, with Reddit having this week shut down its fledgling Redditcoin project. ‘Last year was an annus horribilis for bitcoin’, writes Daniel Roberts for The Guardian, and this year might be make-or-break.

Simon Hansen is a research intern in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Image courtesy of Flickr user Zach Copley.