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Manpower gap in cyber sector exacerbates Guam's vulnerabilities

By Naina Rao and Mar-Vic Cagurangan

The surreptitious cyberattack on Guam at the height of Typhoon Mawar on May 24 put a spotlight on the island’s weaknesses amid the fast-accelerating cyber threats from nefarious actors, according to a technology official.

“Among the myriad of challenges we face, the Volt Typhoon stands out as a stark reminder of the evolving threat landscape,” Frank Lujan, director of the Office of Technology, said at a press conference.

“This advanced, persistent threat employs sophisticated tactics, techniques, and procedures, including the living off the land strategy, which makes it particularly insidious,” he added.

U.S. authorities are investigating the malware, which first surfaced on May 24 when Microsoft reported the detection of a mysterious computer code in telecommunications on Guam and other U.S. infrastructure. The cyberattack was perpetuated by a Chinese government-sanctioned hacker.

“Volt Typhoon emphasized its ability to operate within existing infrastructure, hiding in plain sight, blending into our environments, making nerves obscurity, a formidable challenge to detect and mitigate,” said Lujan, who was one of the resource speakers at the two-day Central Pacific Cybersecurity Summit 2024 at the University of Guam.

Lujan said the cyber experts gathered “at a pivotal juncture when the complexities of cybersecurity have reached new heights.”

Lujan said the manpower gap in the cyber sector on Guam poses a challenge to countering the threats.

“The shortfall in skilled cybersecurity professionals exacerbates our vulnerabilities necessitating both robust workforce capable of countering the evolving threats posed by the adversaries like Volt Typhoon,” Lujan said.

“The urgent need to bridge the workforce shortage underscores the imperative to invest in education, training and recruitment in the cybersecurity domain,” he added.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero noted that the rising geopolitical tensions over Taiwan have made Guam a greater target.

“That’s why state-sponsored threat actors have shown an increased interest in Guam,” she said. “Very scary. But rather than sitting idly, we must prepare for attack.”

The two-day gathering of cyber experts and stakeholders was part of the government’s efforts to build cybersecurity capacity on Guam.

“We are here to share our collective expertise because everyone in this room is the bedrock for forming a formidable cyber team that will ultimately deter adversaries,” the governor said.

“And we are here to execute a whole of government and community approach to align Guam cybersecurity efforts with President Biden's National Cybersecurity strategy of 2023 one that supports a digital ecosystem and embraces technology for what it is intertwined in our day-to-day lives.”

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