ASEAN must act on smart device security, says Malaysia’s Minister for Communications

By Nurfilzah Rohaidi

Gobind Singh Deo joined international luminaries at Singapore International Cybersecurity Week.

Image: GovWare

ASEAN must act to ensure greater cybersecurity of smart devices, Gobind Singh Deo, Minister for Communications and Multimedia, has said. The adoption of these devices is happening at “much greater scale and speed” than ever before, he warned.

Gobind urged ASEAN counterparts at Singapore International Cybersecurity Week to adopt a security-first mindset, where “digital development needs to embrace cyber security as a high priority”.

“The smart devices we have today are already inheriting security challenges due to the underlying issues in technology architecture,” he said. “Our digital future will be heavily dependent on the availability and integrity of our smart devices,” the minister added.

Gobind called for an international approach to these challenges. “Identifying security vulnerabilities and then addressing them, as well as securing cross border data flows, will be essential in securing the digital future,” he said.

In Malaysia, parts of the security landscape “remain an afterthought,'' he warned, despite digital transformation efforts by the government. Industry must also play its part: “By working together, we ensure that we not only anticipate, but also protect ourselves against cyber threats and cyber attacks”.

Gobind recommended that governments in the region approach cybersecurity as a “strategic investment and introduce trust as a competitive advantage”.

ASEAN nations must create “a robust cybersecurity strategy in measuring, recording, and responding to digital threats at regional and national levels”, he said.

Meanwhile, fellow panellist Ciaran Martin, Chief Executive of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre - part of the GCHQ intelligence service, warned that a “scary explosion” of billions of connected devices has created a security risk.

Consumers should not “give away huge amounts of personal data in return for free services”, and instead choose a model where they “pay for security”.

This way, IoT products and services would be assured to be “subjectively, verifiably more secure”, he remarked. The UK has recently published a Code of Practice for consumer IT security.

Martin also noted that cybersecurity needs to catch up with the pace of innovation - but to do so, will require a “global effort”, he said. “I think it's really important we work with Asian partners. I think we share so much to try to fix these underlying technological problems,” he said.

“Much of the consumer behavior and much of the new technology will be driven here in Asia”, he added.

The Malaysian Minister also shared how the country is exploring a new national digital ID. The Cabinet has approved the National Digital Identity initiative, and “Malaysia is currently undertaking a study on the implementation of a national digital ID, which I hope will provide reliable authentication and enable a platform for trusted digital devices,” Gobind said.

The nine-month study, which began in September this year, will propose recommendations to the government on how to implement a national digital identity that serves the needs of citizens, and public and private sectors, according to reports.

Personal data security is crucial for trust in Malaysia’s digital future, Gobind noted. “I'm of the view that data as a resource is essential in realising visions of the smart digital future, consisting of smart cities, and even autonomous cars,” the Minister remarked.

Only when security and trust are “assured”, can cities and countries fully realise the benefits of digital economies, the minister said.

He called on agencies to react faster to potential cyber threats, noting that “over half of all reported cyber crimes have data theft as their goal”.

Governments should consider information sharing as a “strategic asset”, said the minister.

“Failing to embed effective security measures will erode trust and thereby undermine the stability of our information society,” the minister concluded.

“Our digital economies, and the platforms on which they are built, cannot be more of a source of risk than a source of development.”