Surge in Cyberattacks: Threats and Tensions in the Philippines

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Cyberattacks Against the Philippines Surge Amid Territorial Dispute

Cyberattacks targeting the Philippines have seen a significant increase, with a staggering 325 percent rise in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the previous year. This surge in malicious cyber activity is believed to be linked to the country’s ongoing territorial dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Resecurity, a US-based cybersecurity company, has been working closely with Philippine authorities to trace the source of these attacks back to online facilities in China and Vietnam.

The Nature of the Cyberattacks

According to Resecurity, the majority of the cyberattacks against the Philippines can be categorized into three types: hack-and-leak, misinformation and influence campaigns, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

Hack-and-leak operations involve the use of cyber tools to gain unauthorized access to sensitive or classified material, which is then released to the public. This type of attack aims to expose confidential information and undermine the targeted entities.

Misinformation and influence campaigns, on the other hand, focus on infiltrating social media platforms and spreading false or misleading information. By blurring the line between fact and fiction, these campaigns aim to manipulate public opinion and create confusion.

DDoS attacks, which account for 10 percent of the cyberattacks, involve overwhelming a targeted server, service, or network with a flood of internet traffic. The goal is to disrupt the normal functioning of the target and cause inconvenience or damage.

The Impact on the Philippines

The recent surge in cyberattacks against the Philippines coincides with the escalating tensions between the country and China over the West Philippine Sea. Resecurity reports that 80 percent of the cyberattacks target Philippine government institutions, while the remaining 20 percent focus on educational institutions.

Shawn Loveland, the Chief Operating Officer of Resecurity, explains in a blog post that these cyberattacks aim to “discredit the government and create chaos via cyberspace, as the Philippine population relies heavily on digital media channels and is active on social media networks.” The cyberattacks align with disinformation campaigns related to the longstanding territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.

One notable incident mentioned by Resecurity is the “audio deep fake” of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., supposedly ordering military action against China. These types of fabricated audio recordings further contribute to the atmosphere of misinformation and manipulation.

Responses and Concerns

In February, Philippine government agencies announced that they had successfully repelled a cyberattack suspected to be originating from China. Multiple government departments were targeted in the attack, prompting concerns about national security.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) emphasized that identifying the origin of the attacks was not an attempt to blame Beijing. However, the revelation of hackers infiltrating email systems and internal websites of various government agencies raised alarm among lawmakers.

House Speaker Martin Romualdez stressed the urgent need for a comprehensive response to address this matter of national security and public interest. Meanwhile, China expressed its willingness to assist the Philippine government in identifying the perpetrators behind the cyberattacks.

Resecurity, however, believes that state-backed hackers from China or possibly North Korea are responsible for these attacks. The company has reported targeting of over 12 government organizations in the Philippines within the same timeframe, indicating a well-organized and coordinated attack by state actors rather than independent hacktivists.

The cyberattacks against the Philippines highlight the growing importance of cybersecurity in an increasingly interconnected world. As tensions persist in the West Philippine Sea, it is crucial for governments and organizations to strengthen their defenses and collaborate internationally to combat cyber threats.

Source: The Manila Times

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