How can Malaysia gear up for digital signatures?

By Shirley Tay

Dr Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek, Chairman of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, shares how digital ID will play a role.

Malaysia’s digital economy contributed 18.5 per cent to its GDP in 2018 - that’s RM267.7 billion (US $66.7 billion) - according to the Department of Statistics.

Tech will be key in helping the country recover from the devastating impacts of Covid-19, says Dr Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek, Chairman of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). Malaysia’s most recent budget allocated RM 100 million (US $24.9 million) to the development of the digital economy.

As more transactions go online, digital signatures will play a crucial role in verifying documents and identities. MCMC hopes the technology will be used by more entities in the country. Fadhlullah shares his plans to achieve this.

A catalyst for digital signatures

Malaysians “have not warmed up to digital signatures” yet, says Fadhlullah. “We tried educating the general public many many years ago about digital signatures. But let's be honest, only the techies would love to talk to us.”

While its use has improved over the years, Fadhlullah hopes to see a larger uptake of the technology. That will come as more Malaysians go online, creating a “huge demand” for their data and transactions to be protected, he adds.

The country’s National Digital ID (NDID) project will tackle these security concerns and be a “catalyst” for the use of digital signatures, he says.

The NDID will “inadvertently use” tech such as digital signatures and public key infrastructure, Fadhlullah says. “You and I as end users do not know that we even have a digital signature somewhere in our transactions, but it is all embedded.”

Facial and fingerprint recognition will also be used to secure an individual’s digital identity. A study detailing the use cases and implementation strategy of NDID has been scheduled to be tabled at the Cabinet, Fadhlullah adds.

Guiding digital signature licensees

The drive to push out digital signatures must also come from service providers, Fadhlullah believes. “It's not a natural thing for consumers to even ask about digital signatures.”

“When entities that provide services feel there is a need for a higher level of security, only then, will digital signatures flourish,” he adds.

Four firms are currently licensed to provide services under Malaysia’s Digital Signature Act. MCMC is working with these companies to “understand their business direction” and provide them with advice, Fadhlullah says.

“Once we understand that, and also get feedback from our interactions with industries that are ready to embrace digital signatures, we connect them with the four licensees.”

Focus on building infrastructure

MCMC’s main priority will be improving the coverage and quality of service of telecommunication infrastructure, Fadhlullah says. Malaysia’s movement control order had “put a lot of strain on the network”, he adds.

“We can all talk about the grandiose things of the digital economy. But if the basic thing called infrastructure is not robust enough, we'll get nowhere,” he says. Malaysia’s new digital infrastructure program, Jendela, aims to ramp up wireless broadband speeds and 4G coverage, and speed, Fadhlullah shares.

A network infrastructure tracker will help MCMC map out underserved areas and provide telcos with funding to build the necessary infrastructure, he says. The agency also aims to build internet centres that provide free WiFi within a 100m radius and devices to go online.

Malaysia is turning to digital for its post-Covid economic recovery. The NDID, together with robust telecommunications infrastructure, will help to propel the nation forward in its digital push.