Experts warn of cyber attacks on key facilities
Experts have expressed concern about the possibility of cyber attacks on critical infrastructure in the country, such as power plants, electricity and water grids.
THIS year has seen a string of highprofile cyber-attacks in line with a continuous increase in worldwide cyber-criminal activity. While the majority of attacks to date are focused on private businesses such as financial institutes, cyber security specialists are becoming increasingly wary of the potential threats of attacks on critical infrastructure such as power plants, electricity or water grids.
This brings up a lot of questions for Myanmar. The Rakhine conflict has put international focus back on the country and emotions, especially in the Islamic world, are running high.
Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS have repeatedly called for their followers to wage a jihad against Myanmar. Countries such as Turkey and Pakistan have skilled hackers who in the past have acted out of religious motivation. The attacks by Turkish hackers on websites of the Myanmar government in late August last year underline the danger from this region.
Furthermore, Myanmar is a geostrategic hotspot, effectively being at the crossroads between the Indian subcontinent and Southeast and EastAsia.
China with its Sino-Myanmar pipelines, which transport gas and crude oil from the Indian Ocean to Southwest China, has a key interest in Myanmar. This brings a new dimension when looking at the security situation – that of Myanmar being sucked into international conflicts, in which the country is not the primary target.
A good example of this is the BakuTiblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline attack in Turkey. Bloomberg Magazine reported that the 2008 explosion at the BTC pipeline was the direct result of a cyber-attack. The perpetrators were able to gain access and manipulate the controls to over pressurise the pipeline. The attack occurred on Turkish soil but is likely to be linked to the Russo-Georgian war, which started two days later.
But these are not the only factors, which need to be taken into account. Recently Myanmar has also turned into the newest battle ground of Japan and China’s infrastructure race in Southeast Asia. Add to that the myriad internal conflicts and one can begin to understand how precarious the situation is.
To date Myanmar has been spared from any major cyber-attacks on its critical infrastructure. This is not due to stringent protective measures or effective diplomacy but down to the fact that much of the infrastructure dates back decades, in some cases even back to the British colonial era. The situation is about to change though.
The year has started with a series of announcements by the government in the power sector. Four new power plants are to double the countries current electricity output to more than 6000 megawatts (MW). Chief among these projects is Total’s and Siemens LNG facility with an output of 1230 MW.
Myanmar is undeniably in need of large amounts of electricity. According to the 2014 census only 32.4 percent of the populations’ main source of lighting is electricity – candles make up 20.7pc.
High hopes were put on the NLD government after it’s landslide victory at the 2015 elections. But it appears that what the new government brought to the table in enthusiasm, is not matched in capacity. The first two years of the NLD in power were mainly characterised by inertia.
It would be unfair to solely put the blame on the government though. Decades of military rule have left most civilian institutions in disarray. In many ways Myanmar is not just in a phase of transition but one of inventing itself new – a herculean task under any circumstances.
This is an important factor to keep in mind. The government needs to tackle issues on all sides and cyber security has not made it to the top of the list of priorities.
After all, an abstract, technical topic of such complexity is a difficult sell to a constituency that is in dire need of basic healthcare, education, electricity and access to clean water. Also, there is a lack of understanding of the very real danger the country is facing.
Myanmar security experts, who have asked to remain anonymous, have voiced their frustration at the lack of even a basic understanding of cyber-related topics by decision makers. This doesn’t make the topic of securing Myanmar’s critical infrastructure less relevant though.
Itai Yonat, CEO of Intercept 9500 Ltd, a leader in cyber intelligence, explains: “We have been observing the situation in Myanmar for some time now. The country is in the unique position of having to build large parts of its infrastructure from scratch, giving it the opportunity to secure it from the get-go.
“To not act now would not just be careless but reckless. It’s not a question of if an attack on Myanmar’s infrastructure will occur – but when.”
It remains to be seen if the government will use this opportunity.
A hacker shows his skills to Myanmar Times photographer.