Despite hacks, Philippine cyberspace still ‘safe’ but for how long?

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By Alexander Villafania

QUEZON CITY, METRO MANILA – The Philippines has been slowly sliding from the list of most vulnerable countries against cybercriminals, according to at least two separate reports from Internet security companies.

A report by Kaspersky Labs for the second quarter of 2010 indicated that the Philippines was knocked off the 19th place for being the most attacked country in the world by cybercriminals, replaced by Bangladesh.

Cybercriminals have somewhat lost some interest in using the Philippines as a host for their Internet attacks lately. Kaspersky ranked the Philippines in 18th place in the second quarter this year for hosting malicious applications, up from eighth place in the first quarter.

Another report by Symantec showed that the Philippines is ranked 20th among all countries where attacks are originating. Overall, the Philippines shares only 1 percent to being the source of global cyberattacks, though it ranks sixth in the Asia Pacific region.

But this does not mean the Philippines is far from being safe.

In fact, Kasperksy Labs Antivirus Analyst Yuri Nemestnikov said that the situation of Internet security in the Philippines is far from stable. There is no explanation as to reasons for the Philippines sliding out of favor to be host for Internet attacks.

“It happened because of falling popularity of servers located in the Philippines for hosting malware. If we will look at the quantitative indicators, there was a three times decrease in the number of attacks from servers located in the Philippines.”

“Cybercriminals moved away their malicious code to hosting in other countries. It’s hard to tell why the amount of decreased so dramatically in Philippines,” Nemestnikov said.

The reasons may not be be stated, nevertheless, the Philippines is still target for very specific attacks from cybercriminals, especially when it comes to current events.

Lito Averia, president of the Philippine Computer Emergency Response Team (PH-CERT) said there a number of website defacement of several government agencies and sometimes of candidates prior to the national election in May this year.

Some of the websites that were attacked were the presidential candidates Manny Villar and Joseph “Erap” Estrada (which hosted a Trojan horse), and government websites such as Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), among others.

Just recently, there had been renewed attacks against some local websites, apparently in retaliation for the deaths of several tourists from Hong Kong during a bloody hostage crisis at the Quirino Grandstand. Attacks were made on the websites of the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Philippine Information Agency (PIA).

Averia said government websites are not equipped to protect their websites from attacks. He warned that the attacks will continue until the government establishes their own website security, adding that government websites must also regularly back up their online content.

“The government has to be educated not only awareness but the need to develop the capabilities to protect themselves from constant attacks,” Averia said.

The last report for the number of defacement of government websites in the Philippines is already three years old. A report by former Cyber Security Coordination Head Virtus Gil showed that it was only in 2006 when 446 government websites were hacked. This data is currently being updated by PH-CERT.

As per report by Symantec and Kaspersky, the Philippines has been in the low radar of targeted cyberattacks and use as host for attacking other offshore locations. More than just for political reasons, cybercrime in the Philippines is becoming more targeted especially when there is money to be made.

Kenedi Celik, a security solutions architect for Symantec said in his report that stolen personal information using malicious applications are sold. For instance, a live credit card information could cost from $0.06 to $30 per account.

“End users are the main target and social engineering exploits play a large role in the threat,” Celik said.

While the use of credit cards to purchase items online is still low in the Philippines, the growth of Internet use and the cost of doing business online could encourage more to do online transactions. Security experts warn that this is an enticing opportunity for cybercriminals to target the Philippines again.

Kaspersky’s Yuri Nemestnikov said that the slow security awareness is the very thing that cybercriminals are hoping for and this could put the Philippines back in the list of most targeted country by cybercriminals. He also warned that social networking sites are also now being exploited to spread malicious codes that can find targets.

“The serious development of the Internet in this country during last several together with slow growth of security awareness may cause that we will see this country in the Top 20 (of most targeted countries) one more time very soon,” Nemestnikov said.

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