Training Filipino youth on cybersecurity

Threats to national security, public order, and safety are no longer limited to disasters, calamities, or armed conflict.

In our previous column, we discussed a training component that both houses of Congress must include to make the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or ROTC bill relevant and provide Filipino youth with essential skills to navigate modern-day life.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown orders that went with it have accelerated our reliance on technology. Schools and universities have adapted to online schooling and hybrid teaching methods.

Most consumer businesses now conduct transactions online, including banks, utilities, and other services. Many government transactions too are now conducted online. Remote working is a practice that had accelerated immensely during the pandemic.

Associated with this reliance on technology in our day-to-day lives is the increase in the proportion of cyber threats, attacks, and cybercrimes in the country.

Kaspersky Security Network or KSN, a global cybersecurity company, reported that cyber threats detected in the Philippines increased sharply from 2017 to 2021 by 433 percent. There were 9.49 million monitored cyber threat attempts on devices of Kaspersky users in 2017 compared to 50.55 million in 2021.

In 2021 alone, Kaspersky’s detection systems uncovered an average of 380,000 new malicious files daily, reflecting an increase of 20,000 compared to the previous year. According to KSN, the Philippines now ranks 4th worldwide in the most number of web threats.

Currently, the country is one of the worst in Asia in terms of having a cyber secure environment. Kaspersky Lab identified the Philippines as the top target of banking malware in the Asia-Pacific region.

Moreover, according to USAID’s Better Access and Connectivity, the current cybersecurity environment is bleak and threatens the US$23 billion-a-year BPO industry. USAID BEACON pointed out that the Philippines must invest in its cybersecurity capacity to better equip the country to fight increasing cyberattacks and relentless information security breaches.

Aside from cyber threats and cyberattacks, there is also an alarming increase in cybercrime statistics.

Particularly disturbing is the exponential increase in cases of online sexual exploitation of children. In a recent study by Steven Roche et al., entitled, “Online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines: A scoping review,” there was a sharp increase in reports of possible OSEC cases in the Philippines as recorded by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, from 1,339,597 in 2020 to 3,188,793 in 2021, the second highest in the world behind India (NCMEC, 2022).

This particular information should alarm our lawmakers since it involves Filipino children and their future. The study by Roche, citing several sources, noted that sexual exploitation negatively impacted children’s cognitive functioning as well as mental health, resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Across the life course, it could negatively impact a range of short and long-term physical, psychological, social, educational, and economic well-being. There are also vicarious trauma effects on the families and communities of survivors.

These statistics lead us to the conclusion that threats to national security, public order, and safety are no longer limited to disasters, calamities, or armed conflict. Cybersecurity should now form part of the backbone of our digital society as protecting digital data and the prevention of cybercrimes have become significant security issues. This is why we humbly propose that the ROTC bill be structurally drafted this way:

It is imperative that our government promote cybersecurity and cybercrime prevention awareness and invest in appropriate training programs for our Filipino youth. As I said, cybersecurity and cybercrime prevention awareness and education have become an essential aspect of today’s online environment. Their importance will only continue to grow as our reliance on technology continues to increase.

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