Hackers step up attacks on S-E Asia

Governments and companies in region 45% more likely to be targeted, says security firm

TAIPEI • Hackers have stepped up their attacks on government organisations and companies in South- east Asia and made the region one of the most targeted in the world amid heightened regional tensions, according to security provider FireEye.

Disputes over territorial waters and ongoing trade talks mean that organisations in the region were 45 per cent more likely to be targeted than the average for rest of the world, FireEye wrote in a report released yesterday. The security firm looked specifically at sophisticated cyber attacks, those typically used by governments or professional criminal organisations, rather than amateur efforts.

"A lot of it is intelligence gathering surrounding border disputes and trade negotiations," Mr Bryce Boland, chief technology officer for Asia-Pacific at FireEye, said yesterday. Companies and governments in South-east Asia bear some responsibility themselves, he said.

The threat is more intense because victims are not required to report or share details of attacks, so there is typically no coordinated effort to develop best practices and mount defences.

"When a company gets targeted, other companies generally will not find out about it, because there's no disclosure and therefore other companies will remain vulnerable," Mr Boland said.

REGIONAL TENSIONS

A lot of it is intelligence gathering surrounding border disputes and trade negotiations.

MR BRYCE BOLAND, chief technology officer for Asia-Pacific at FireEye, on South-east Asia being one of the most targeted regions in the world

Thailand, where political tensions have risen, was twice as likely as the global average to see attacks in the first half of this year, according to the report.

On Wednesday, several Thai government websites went offline after a distributed-denial-of-service (DDOS) attack, believed to be a reprisal against the authorities' tightening grip on the Internet, BBC reported.

Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition against a government proposal to limit websites it deems inappropriate. They accused the authorities of creating the Great Firewall of Thailand, in reference to Beijing's censorship machine the Great Firewall of China.

A DDOS attack works by exceeding a website's capacity to handle Internet traffic and is usually orchestrated by a program or bot, BBC said, adding that the attacked websites were restored early yesterday.

FireEye's report comes after the United States and China, which have traded accusations about intelligence-gathering efforts online, agreed last month to curb commercial hacking.

Security breaches cost the global economy more than US$400 billion (S$570 billion) annually, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies estimates, with Asian countries among the most hurt as a percentage of their respective gross domestic products.

Outside of South-east Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan were the most at risk during the period, with around half of organisations exposed to attacks, FireEye said without naming victims or perpetrators. Telecommunications, technology and financial services companies and government organisations were the most targeted in Asia, it said.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2015, with the headline 'Hackers step up attacks on S-E Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe