'We cannot and will not let them win'
Pacific island region confronts the growing threats of cybercrime
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Late last year, Vanuatu got disconnected for nearly two weeks following a cyber-attack that knocked government websites offline.
The Marshall Islands had a similar experience in March 2022, when a hack crippled the nation’s telecommunication system causing massive internet outages.
In Australia, the recent data breach on Optus and Medibank Private exposed millions of Australians to loss of personal information.
“Cybercrimes are an increasing threat to our administrations. One only has to look around the region to see examples of this,” said Henry Puna, secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum.
“Indeed, it is a sad fact that every day, thousands of criminals go to work with the sole intention of inflicting harm on innocent people across the globe, including here in the Blue Pacific Continent. We cannot, and will not, let them win,” Puna said.
Puna spoke at the inaugural Pacific Cyber Capacity Building and Coordination Conference or P4C, which opened Monday in Nadi, Fiji.
Government leaders and cyber experts from across the world gathered for the three-day conference to develop a coordinated approach to addressing and advancing cybersecurity capacity building in the Pacific.
The conference, which will conclude on Wednesday, is organized by the Oceania Cyber Security Center and the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise.
“We want to learn first-hand about the Pacific’s unique cybersecurity needs and priorities so that we can better understand and work together to meet these,” said Ewen McDonald, high commissioner to Fiji and Special Envoy for the Pacific and Regional Affairs.
“The P4C is an opportunity for us to listen and to contribute to a more cyber secure region. The P4C aims to incorporate and normalize cyber security and resilience into broader regional frameworks, under the Boe Declaration, the Pacific Islands Forum 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and the Lagatoi Declaration,” McDonald said in his opening remarks.
While the digitized platform allows governments and businesses to operate efficiently, McDonald warned against the increasing threats of malicious cyber activity.
“Technologies that enhance our lives can also accelerate the speed and scale of cyber-attacks,” he said. “We can see malicious cyber actors – be they cyber criminals or groups connected with nation-states – are exploiting our connectivity - whether to steal our information, spread disinformation and radicalization campaigns, or disrupt our services.”
McDonald acknowledged the challenges of increasing cybersecurity and resilience across the region.
"Raising community awareness of cyber risks, deploying technology that is secure and building a workforce that has the professional skills to improve cyber security in governments, critical infrastructure, businesses and communities are all crucial," he said. "Stronger cyberinfrastructure and upskilling of our workforces are interconnected – one cannot be prioritized over the other."
For his part, Puna said Pacific island nations are facing several challenges ahead in terms of using and securing technology.
Next month, leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum will convene in Rarotonga to launch an implementation plan for the 2050 Strategy, which will address the region's "most pressing opportunities and challenges. The plan will also cover the cyber domain.
"We know that there are many partners with the skills and resources to be able to help us confront our challenges in the cyber domain. It is very heartening to see such support exists. It is greatly appreciated," Puna said.
"However, without taking that assistance for granted, we wish to ensure that every dollar, every euro, every minute of assistance provided to us is done so in the most effective manner," he added.
The conference is jointly funded by Australia, New Zealand the United Kingdom, and the United States through Partners in the Blue Pacific, a recently formed multilateral coordination mechanism designed to boost regional cooperation and deliver better results for the Pacific.
“As the methods used to lift cybersecurity and resilience have evolved, the Pacific has started to transition to a new phase of (cybersecurity capacity building) that is evidence-based and informed by the region’s unique context and needs,” Cameron Boardman, director of Oceania Cyber Security Center, said in an earlier statement.
“We have developed the P4C in line with this focus and will use the event to highlight Pacific voices and experiences and provide stakeholders the opportunity to communicate their cybersecurity priorities directly to donor governments," Boardman added.