Contested Connectivity: Cyber Dangers Within the Asia-Pacific

cyber security

Asia-Pacific nations are confronting more and more hacking operations that are funded by the state for both economic and geopolitical goals. 

They are also becoming more adept in their execution. Foreign and domestic policy ambitions are surfacing through the internet, and state-linked actors are battling states’ adversaries, political foes, and global views, both openly by means of defacement (hacking the target site and replacing the material with a hacker’s messages) as well as in secret through disinformation operations. 

Although the basic cyber-desirable practices are still not accessible to the less cyber-capable states, some states within the region are among the most cyber-savvy globally. 

Making more of a variety of international alliances between industry and governments is likely to increase the region’s cyber security. Geopolitical and political alignments will influence how this develops.

Cyber Threats from and to the Asia-Pacific

The cyberspace’s physical layer includes submarine cables, and their landing sites can be a target for interruption during conflicts in the gray zone, war, and intelligence gathering. 

The Asia-Pacific’s connection to the world’s other regions depends on cables that run through the world’s congested shipping lanes and the waters in dispute within the South China Sea. There is a significant disruption to cables throughout the region. 

For instance, Taiwan’s Matsu Islands submarine cables have been repeatedly damaged in the last 2021 years and have been damaged by Chinese shipping and cargo vessels.

With rapid digitalization, obvious geopolitical rivalry, and competition, the Asia-Pacific region witnessed the biggest year-over-year cyber-attack boost in 2023. 

The area experienced 1,835 attacks per organization per week, as opposed to the average worldwide of 1,248. States have long conducted cyber-espionage actions against one another to obtain political advantage.

Governments Are Battling

Governments worldwide are battling the implications of dependence on the internet, including increasing the resilience of cyber-based disinformation campaigns. 

In Myanmar, Facebook and Twitter accounts and websites associated with the military were publishing and spreading public praises for the Army on the internet and also expressing disapproval of ethnic minorities and groups wiped out by the end of 2023. 

This is not the first occasion; the Taiwanese presidential election in January 2024 saw constant efforts by China-linked actors to create narratives and to deface public notice boards in a more comprehensive mental and information-based campaign. 

Japan Steps to Enhance Safety

Japan and other countries in the region are enhancing their capacity to protect themselves from harmful propaganda campaigns. 

Singapore continues to invest in increasing society’s resilience to disinformation campaigns and other threats as part of its “Total Defence’ initiative. However, not all countries in the region have as many resources and most likely will not be able – or have the political will to protect against cyber or information-related activities.

Asia-Pacific Partnerships for Cyber Defense

Cyber-attacks do not happen in isolation and are not limited to borders set by sovereign states. Allies are intensifying their efforts to increase cyber security by working with other countries. 

For instance, in early 2024, the US Marine Corps deployed cyber personnel to Okinawa, Japan, as part of a regular effort to strengthen network security. Alliances between allies to share, exercise sharing, and exchange intelligence are to be well-integrated.

The level of cyber-security practice differs widely across the region, which affects resilience and the capacity to recover from cyberattacks. 

For example, in the aftermath of a ransomware attack on Sri Lanka in August 2023, poor cyber security practices resulted in the Sri Lankan government being unable to recover three months’ worth of information as they had not taken backups of its data. 

While international and regional alliances are focusing more on technical capabilities, greater efforts are required to fundamentally raise cyber-perfect practices.

Cybersecurity Threats Are Likely to Increase

Cybersecurity threats are likely to increase and improve in the coming years as the Asia-Pacific continues to quickly connect the digital divide and as cybercriminals and state actors alike try to exploit weaknesses in an ever-growing attack surface.

The broader issues that have emerged because of technological advances, such as artificial intelligence, with implications on cyber defense and the future of war, are also likely to be at the top of the military establishment’s minds.

 Innovative technologies in this area can increase defense capabilities for all forces, but they aren’t likely to be evenly distributed.

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