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Guam's cyber defenses 'are inadequate'

Senator warns Pacific islands are 'very vulnerable to cyber-attacks''

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan


The recent digital intrusion that breached Palau’s IT infrastructure highlighted the cybersecurity gap in the Pacific islands, thus exposing the region to cyber threats, a Guam senator said.


Guam is particularly in a precarious position considering that 90 percent of global internet traffic flows through the island, Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes said, noting that the U.S. territory requires “the highest level of protection."

Tina Muna Barnes

“If Guam is the tip of the spear, then we need to ensure it has a sharp point, not a dull edge,” Muna Barnes said in a letter to Chuuk Sen. Nelson Stephen, president of the Association of

Pacific Island Legislatures. “While I do not wish to sound overly dramatic, the reality is that our current defenses are

inadequate and this situation must change."

At the height of Supertyphoon Mawar in May last year, a state-sponsored Chinese hacker nicknamed Volt Typhoon breached Guam's IT systems, targeting defense infrastructure.

Muna Barnes said it is incumbent on the Department of Defense to beef up its protection for Guam’s infrastructure, noting that “a telecommunications 

blackout would severely impact both military and civilian operations.”

“The DoD's commitment to harden Guam's infrastructure should take

 a mutually beneficial approach, similar to past and current large scale projects like the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam,” Muna Barnes said.


At last week's Micronesian Islands Forum on Guam, the Palau delegation reported that the cyberattack that hit the nation in March leaked 20,000 confidential government records.

During his trip to Tokyo last week, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. attributed the malicious act to China, telling reporters that it was Beijing’s tactic to weaken his government’s ties with Taiwan and the United States.

“We certainly do not want to experience what Palau did when tens of thousands of private documents were leaked online,” Muna Barnes said. “It is imperative to emphasize the gravity of our current situation. Our region is very vulnerable to cyber-attacks."


While Google and NTT Docomo have raised their vigilance, Muna Barnes said the cybersecurity challenge in the region must be addressed immediately at the regional level.


“Based on discussions with various stakeholders from the U.S. federal government, industry, and international experts, it is clear that the time to act is now,” said Muna Barnes, Guam’s delegate to the APIL.


In January, the APIL board of directors passed a resolution calling for the creation of a Cybersecurity Working Group, which would be tasked with preparing an initial assessment of steps taken by each APIL member to

safeguard their systems from intrusions.


Muna Barnes is seeking a virtual meeting with APIL leaders to push for the establishment of the proposed working group ahead of the next general assembly.


“As the author of the original resolution and in my capacity as the chairperson for the committee overseeing technology for the government of Guam, I am acutely aware of the cybersecurity challenges faced within our region,” the vice speaker said.


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