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Commonwealth tackling rising cybercrime threat in Asia

Cybercrime represents an increasing threat in Asia, with intellectual property and security threats, financial losses, psychological stress and disruption to services and assets burgeoning issues for governments and businesses.

On 20-21 September, the Commonwealth Secretariat held a conference which saw law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges and magistrates, key domestic policy makers, international security experts, and academics  deliberate on solutions to the region's growing cybersecurity challenges.

The conference was prompted by increasing internet usage rates and the rapid adoption of digital technologies, which have brought immense benefits to the Asia region, while increasing its vulnerability to cybercrime and cybersecurity risks.

"Cybercrime poses serious risks to countries strategic interests, including trade and investment. It is also a risk to key economic sectors, critical national infrastructure, defence and security interests, democratic institutions and systems, and of course, the health, safety and well-being of each and every one of us and, of course, the most vulnerable in society, including children," said Dr Tawanda Hondora, Head Rule of Law Section at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Hondora added that many experts agree that the Asia region is the most targeted by ransomware attacks.

In her opening remarks, HE Kara Owen CMG, British High Commissioner to Singapore also highlighted the risks posed by cybercrime and cybersecurity threats, including the impact on intellectual property rights regimes, the impact on critical national infrastructure, and the significant disruptions to businesses and key services sectors. She also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had amplified these challenges.

According to a Check Point Research report, the Asian Pacific region experienced a 168% year-on-year increase in cyberattacks in May 2021 compared to May 2020.

The top countries to experience the largest increase in cyberattacks in the Asia-Pacific region were Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia with a 40%, 30%, 25%, and 22% increase, respectively.

Ransomware, scams, Crime as a Service attacks (the practice of cybercriminals selling access to the tools and knowledge needed to execute cybercrime), hacking and Denial of Service Attacks (attacks designed to crash IT systems) were cited as some of the top cyber threats in Asia.

Speaking at the conference, Sebastian Tan, Senior Director (International Cooperation and Partnerships Division), Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore noted that global cybercrime costs are expected to rise 15% annually and reach US10.5 trillion dollars by 2025.

"If these estimates are correct the cost of cybercrime will exceed the market for illicit drugs," he said.

"The anonymity afforded by tools such as VPN, the dark web, and crypto currencies pose significant challenges to law enforcement officials in the identification and prosecution of cybercriminals. 

"In Singapore, scams make up more than half of reported cases of crimes and there were about 24,000 scam cases reported in 2021, a 53% increase from the previous years."

According to the International Data Corporation, the Asia-Pacific region is likely to spend over $31 billion on cybersecurity solutions and services in 2022 - an increase of 15.5% from 2021.

The conference was attended by international experts from INTERPOL, Meta, the US Department of Justice, the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs, the Singapore Police Force, Cyber Security Agency Singapore, legal practitioners and academics.

Delegates exchanged views on the types, trends and impact of cybercrime, the importance of cyber diplomacy and mutual legal assistance, and practical solutions to securing electronic evidence across territorial borders.

The conference, which was held with the financial backing of the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), is the third of four conferences held in the past nine months.

The first two, which were held in Africa and the Caribbean regions in January and May 2022, respectively, promoted the identification of solutions to the growing cybercrime problem. These capacity-building and policy-influencing conferences promote the Commonwealth Cyber Declaration that was adopted by Commonwealth Heads of Government in 2018, and the goal of a free, open, inclusive and secure cyberspace that fosters economic growth for all and the realisation of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

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