By Dr. Darren Wilkins
On August 17, 2017, LIBTELCO and its partners hosted the Country’s first National Cyber Security Forum. Many questioned the authority of LIBTELCO to champion such a forum since it is the responsibility of the Chief Information Office(r).
Others argued that this initiative should have been taken on by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (Head of the Sector and Policy Maker). Are they serious? In today’s article I endeavor to provide clarity on the “motivation” or the “instrument” that authorized/authorizes LIBTELCO to host and champion the National Cyber-security Forum. I will also provide some insight into the efforts we have made in building a cyber-security mechanism that can help us in mitigating cyber threats and combating-cyber attacks.
In my speech at the conference, I articulated that tackling cyber threats require collective efforts to build resilient institutions to mitigate or counter cyber attacks. I mentioned that over the years, there have been alarming reports regarding cyber-attacks and cyber crimes, not just in developed countries but also in under-developed countries such as Liberia. I urged all Information Communication Technology (ICT) institutions and cyber security firms to be ready to tackle cyber threats in the country, should the need arise.
The National Cyber Security Forum was attended by stakeholders from both the public and the private sectors. It was also attended by Liberians from the Diaspora, and was carried live giving Liberians in the Diaspora the opportunity to contribute to the forum. Professionals from the Ivory Coast and China were also present. The primary focus of that forum was to create awareness for cyber security and its impact on the public and private sectors, and of course, our society as a whole.
Now, why should LIBTELCO champion cyber-security and not the Chief Information Office(r)? First of all, enshrined in the Telecommunications Act of 2007, is a clause that designates LIBTELCO as the “National Operator.” As the National Operator, the Corporation carries the responsibility of providing telecommunications or/and now ICT services to the Government and people of Liberia.
Also, enshrined in the 2010-2015 ICT policy, is a mandate that LIBTELCO builds the Government Network (Gov.Net) as well as the national data center. These two tasks require maximum security to ensure that the country’s economy and digital infrastructure are secure from cyber threats and attacks. Of course, due to the lack of resources, both mandates have not been fully implemented.
Protecting our digital infrastructure is a national security priority and a national economic priority. Over the past few months we have been advocating the need for a comprehensive cyber security strategy that can guide us in boosting our defenses in government, responding to threats , recovering from attacks and more importantly, to prevent and disrupt them in the first place.
LIBTELCO should be and must be one of the critical lines of Liberia’s cyber defenses. For this to happen, we will need skilled men and women who can and will work around the clock, 24/7, monitoring threats, issuing warnings, and keeping Liberians safe.
In this digital age our adversaries are getting more sophisticated and more determined, and more plentiful. Therefore, there is a need to be conscientious and frequently on the alert. Staying ahead of cyber attackers can be a challenge, but with the proper mechanism put in place, we can rest assured of mitigating cyber threats, as well as, having a robust counter response on the standby.
Cyber security should not be seen as a government responsibility. The private sector needs to come on board as well. We also need to continue to invest in the education and skills of our IT Managers, and our cyber security professionals. The public too must be made aware of cyber security and the impact on society. This can be done jointly with the private sector, civil societies, donor agencies and the Government of Liberia.
No doubt, cyber threats pose an enormous challenge for our country. It is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation. Liberia may not be a country like other foreign governments that have their computer networks penetrated or hacked every single day. But I can assure you as we continue to develop our country, we might be one of the many nations that will be a target for consistent cyber attacks.
Our critical infrastructure — our financial systems, power grids, pipelines, health care systems – are now running on networks connected to the Internet. So this is a matter of public safety and of public health. And most of this infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. So neither government, nor the private sector can defend the nation alone. It’s going to have to be a shared mission — government and industry working hand in hand, as partners.
We will definitely need to inject cyber security into our new ICT policy. All of us can agree that this is a threat that has to be addressed, hence there is a need for a comprehensive strategy and mechanisms to be put in place before the worst occurs.
Our law enforcement agencies will need to be equipped with the skills and tools to prevent, detect, and go after cyber criminals. We must be able to make cyber criminals know that we are not vulnerable and that we have the proper mechanisms in place to deal with them.,
Cyber security is a hard and complicated issue, thus the need to work together. But we must focus on concrete and pragmatic steps that we can take to boost our cyber security endeavors. , I am confident that our collective cyber security efforts will help secure our information, our networks, public health and public safety.
The past attack on one of our service providers sometime ago was a painful reminder that we have no greater duty than the security of the Liberian people. The Government of Liberia will need to provide the necessary support to stakeholders involved with cyber security both in the public and private sectors.
The dawn and ever-present use of the internet and its accompanying technologies have made it imperative for all of us to garner at least a basic understanding of cyber threats cyber crimes and cyber security.
The Internet is a world market place where trillions transact business yearly, asserting that the internet has become widely accessible by smaller mobile and handheld devices as the global system for many nations. We live in a time of rapid technology and social changes. The uncomfortable and inconvenient truth is that the more we experience these technological and social changes, the more we are vulnerable to cyber threats.
Meanwhile, LIBELCO will continue to work with all stakeholders to increase cyber security awareness in Liberia. The three-day National Cyber Security Training that followed the National Cyber Security Forum is evidence that LIBTELCO takes cyber security seriously.
Finally, we must not ignore the significance of cyber security in Liberia. We have achieved a level of modernity that now necessitates a robust cyber security policy and strategy. I believe now is the time to begin developing policies and strategies for cyber security.