Can Asean fight transborder cybercrimes and win?

Husin Jazri

You know something is wrong when the government declares opening someone else’s mail is a felony but your internet activity is fair game for data collecting.

–  EA Bucchianeri, author

During the first Asean Digital Ministers’ Meeting held in a virtual environment on Jan 21, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin appealed to Asean to look into new laws to tackle transboundary cyberthreats as part of regional efforts to develop a digital economic bloc.

He said there are areas under present laws which have to be reviewed to accommodate new technologies and challenges and be mindful that cyberthreats are rapidly changing and encroaching into every sphere of our lives, including our national security.

Nowadays, cybercrimes have become more sophisticated, complicated, and transboundary in nature. Cybercriminals are now more organised, motivated with many successes, and supported by huge resources to finance their operations.

“Bringing transboundary cybercriminals to justice requires a coordinated and integrated regional approach,” Muhyiddin said in his keynote address, adding that Asean should also consider legislations on data privacy and users’ digital identity that could be applied universally in the region.

Malaysia will coordinate the development of the Asean Digital Masterplan 2025 that aims to guide the development of the Asean digital sector over the next five years.

We should applaud our PM for bringing up fighting cybercrimes as one of many important agenda in building a regional digital economic bloc. In this write-up I would like to bring into attention actionable agenda that can contribute to a winnable outcome against cybercrimes in the short and long term and they are as follows:

The first is to enlarge direct and indirect diplomatic footprint. Asean efforts to address cybercrimes can be effective with a wider regional collaboration to achieve global mutual legal assistance with the European Union, Organisation of American States, African Union, OECD and the like. An Asean pact can only be good to prosecute cybercriminals originating from Asean countries only while cyberthreats footprint for beyond.

The second, is to build a legally recognised digital platform that can connect between law enforcers faster. Cybercriminals operate freely disrespectful of any legal parameters, and they move faster. Ironically, digital evidence and digital trails diminish over time. Automating transborder cooperation, supported by good AI technologies and a large amount of reliable data, will put LEA ahead of the curve, hunting these cybercriminals instead of trailing them in traditional way.

The third, is to increase citizens’ protections against cybercrimes. Prevention is always better than cure in the cyber world. Thus, there is a dire need to step up preventive education and measures through legal compulsion and developmental means at the same time. Nothing is better than effective education and upskilling efforts at all levels.

The fourth, is to encourage and support cybersecurity economy to grow exponentially while accomplishing the actions mentioned earlier. Stronger cybersecurity and privacy industry will counter and balance out the oversupply of resources to these cyber mafias. Strong public-private partnerships will push away cybercriminals even further.

The fifth, is to encourage and fund NGOs, citizens cybercrimes watch and any activities that can tap the entire societal talent and resources to focus on cybercrime prevention and improve threats intelligence exchange at all levels.

The sixth, is to educate parents to take serious responsibilities on children’s safety online and improve parental monitoring systems through technology and applications.

Many more actionable items can be listed, but the above are the most fundamental to the winning formula against these cybercriminals. Some of these actionable actions listed are hard to carry out and require political wills and mindset shifts.

View of a Hacker activating 3d rendering app template on a smartphone

Do we have many choices to win? The answer is a definite no. After more than 30 years running cybersecurity, our progress is slower than that of the cybercriminals’. So, it is time to correct these fundamentals before we can start winning and re-evaluating traditional parameters that do not work well in cyberspace.

Cyberspace is science and engineering, and cyberthreats are the art of manoeuvering these principles and protocols and exploiting them for personal, monetary, or political gains. Will science adjust itself and conform to our traditional diplomatic and transborder principles before cyberspace existence or should the other way prevail? I will leave this important question for leaders and diplomats to think and contemplate.

Transborder issues in cyberspace is so fundamental and it will continue to haunt our good and safe living for many more years to come if we do not act fast.

Lastly, the regret of being a cybercrime victim is a lot more painful than the burden of preventing it from occurring, especially to our loved ones.

Be safe and always verify before trusting any offer in the cyber world.  

•      Serba Dinamik ESPC provides cybersecurity and privacy services end to end to any interested parties locally and abroad. More info is available on our website

Assoc Prof Col (r) Datuk Dr Husin Jazri CISSP is Senior Vice President Cybersecurity, Serba Dinamik Group Berhad and Chief Editor of ESPC. He is a member of UNIMY Board of Governance/member of Malaysia Crimes Prevention Foundation. Husin obtained his PhD in Computer Science (Cybersecurity) from National Defence University of Malaysia, Masters (Distinction) in Information Security from Royal Holloway University of London, UK and MBA from University Putra Malaysia. He was the recipient of the prestigious global cybersecurity award, the Harold Tipton Lifetime Achievement Award by the ISC2, USA. (Email: )

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.