Philippines on alert over reports of possible attacks by North Korean hackers

There had been reports of North Korean hackers launching cyber-attacks against the website of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and its Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI).
There had been reports of North Korean hackers launching cyber-attacks against the website of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and its Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI). PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

MANILA - The Philippines government is taking extra precautions ahead of next week's Asean Summit to protect key government internet infrastructure against attacks by North Korean hackers, reported Philippines media.

President Rodrigo Duterte will preside over the summit which runs from Nov 10 to 14. Twenty-one world leaders are expected to attend the summit.

An official with the Department of Information and Communications Technology said that the department was validating reports that key government internet infrastructure might have been compromised by North Korean hackers.

"We are conducting an investigation," assistant secretary Allan Cabanlong said, adding that a report would be ready by Monday (Nov 6).

He said the Philippines was upgrading its cybersecurity systems and protocols.

A key priority here was ensuring the safety of "critical" infrastructure, Cabanlong said in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Government agencies linked to the Philippine Open Internet Exchange are currently required to have individual firewalls. But he acknowledged the security measures would need to be upgraded as threats become more sophisticated.

"It's like an arms race," Cabanlong said.

"If the attack is not sophisticated, then we are protected."

There had been reports of North Korean hackers launching cyber-attacks against the website of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and its Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI).

Cabanlong said the DOST and ASTI will jointly investigate if the so-called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that shut down websites have entered its cyber-system.

"It's like a teargas or smoke grenade. Once it's in the website that is under attack - the website shuts off for a specific period, allowing the attacker to send malware to the website in order to control its system," explained Cabanlong.

News website Quartz reported that "some North Korean users were conducting research, or possibly even network reconnaissance, on a number of foreign laboratories and research centres" including India's Space Research Organisation and the Philippines' DOST.

Looking forward, Cabanlong said his department will be expanding and upgrading the capabilities of the National Cyberintelligence Center.

For now, the cybersecurity bureau is working on "band-aid solutions" while funds and personnel are still unavailable, he said.

"No single agency can do it alone. The private sector and multi-government agencies must work together on this campaign," he said.