MANILA, Philippines — The Chinese embassy has denied Beijing’s involvement in hacking attempts on the websites of Philippine government agencies including the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
“Some Filipino officials and media maliciously speculated about and groundlessly accused China of engaging in cyberattacks against the Philippines, even went as far as connecting these cyberattacks with the South China Sea disputes. Such remarks are highly irresponsible,” the embassy said in a statement on Monday.
The Chinese government, it said, firmly opposes and cracks down on cyberattacks and does not allow illegal activities on Chinese soil or using Chinese infrastructure.
The statement was issued days after the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) revealed that cybersecurity experts successfully blocked hacking attempts from China that targeted government websites and emails.
PCG spokesman Rear Admiral Armand Balilo said he is not discounting the possibility that the cyberattack attempt on its website could be connected to the ongoing conflict in the West Philippine Sea.
Based on the DICT investigation, the hackers were reportedly from China Unicom, a state-owned telecommunications firm.
A cybersecurity center would prevent the occurrence of cybercrimes as the country’s cybercrime laws only focus on investigations, according to the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG).
“It means it already happened and there is a probe to charge the persons responsible,” ACG director Maj. Gen. Sidney Hernia said at a news briefing.
Police officers in cybercrime investigations, he noted, need to improve their skills to remain at par with foreign counterparts.
Over the weekend, the DICT revealed that China-based hackers committed cyberattacks against government websites and emails.
Hernia said law enforcement agencies should beef up security to protect the country’s cyberspace.
The ACG is collaborating with financial institutions and e-wallet services to strengthen their security against online scams.
Online abuse of children
Stronger community-based measures for digital protection and internet safety are being pushed as the Philippines remains the world’s top hotspot for online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
Advocacy group Save the Children helped organize the Association of Youth Child Rights Advocates of Davao City and the La Filipina Child Network (LCFN) to empower youth leaders to discuss child rights and digital safety.
Alberto Muyot, chief executive officer of Save the Children Philippines, said the passage of Republic Act 11930 is a step toward a stronger advocacy for child protection against all forms of violence.
He noted that the group implements child rights-based programs, such as the Protect Children Philippines Project where communities are trained to campaign against the online sexual abuse of children.
Save the Children Philippines also trained La Filipina National High School student leaders to facilitate online child rights and protection courses.
The LCFN is also training Davao del Norte’s youth council.
Measures against cybercrimes targeting overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are being sought as the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) on Monday signed an agreement with the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC).
DMW officer-in-charge Hans Cacdac said they are hoping to prevent and stop “data intrusions” that target OFWs.
Illegal recruiters and investment scammers operating online are deceiving OFWs and their families to drain them of their hard-earned income, he added.
DICT Undersecretary Alexander Ramos, concurrent CICC head, said OFWs and their families can contact the CICC through Facebook Messenger.
DMW-registered OFWs will be informed of new scams during orientation seminars or in advanced notifications, he added.
Physical SIM registration
The ACG is encouraging telecommunication firms to consider the in-person registration of subscriber identity module or SIM cards to prevent them from being used in illegal activities.
“There should be a physical registration of numbers or the telco will control the acquisition of the SIM number,” ACG cyber response unit chief Col. Jay Guillermo said at a news briefing yesterday.
On Monday, a 40-year-old man was arrested in Valenzuela City for allegedly selling SIM cards with verified e-wallet or GCash accounts.
A concerned citizen tipped off the ACG that the suspect was selling SIM cards with GCash accounts for P1,500 each.
SIM card buyers, Guillermo said, should be required to present identification and even passports for verification.
“There is no way for physical confirmation on the part of the telcos if these people registering the SIM is a true person or not,” he said.
Online, text scams
Telco giant Globe Telecom renewed its appeal for the public to exercise vigilance against persistent online and text scams as fraudsters persist despite the SIM Registration Act.
“Please never engage with unsolicited calls, texts or chat messages and never give your personal details to strangers,” Anton Bonifacio, the firm’s chief information security officer, said in a statement.
Scammers are finding new ways to bait potential victims amid the industry’s efforts to block spam and scam text messages, he added.
Criminals are also shifting to over-the-top media services such as chat apps and spoofing or illegal devices to trick customer phones, he noted.
Cyber identity theft cases in the Philippines increased by 12.2 percent in 2023, with 1,597 cases logged compared to 1,402 in 2022, according to police data.
Scam and spam texts continued to increase, with 5.48 billion unwanted text messages blocked in 2023, which doubled from 2.7 billion in 2022, according to Globe’s data.
Meanwhile, bank-related spam and scam text messages declined to 21.9 million in 2023 from 83.39 million in 2022 — a 73.7 percent drop — amid Globe’s anti-fraud partnerships with banks and financial institutions.
Globe recently spent $90 million to boost cybersecurity, adding to the $20 million initially invested in infrastructure to combat spam and scam messages.
4th in global rank
The Philippines placed fourth last year in the global ranking of countries most targeted by web or online threats, according to Russian multinational cybersecurity firm Kaspersky.
In 2022, the country ranked second.
The Kaspersky Security Network report showed that while there is a slight improvement in the government’s cybersecurity efforts, the country is still at the top in Southeast Asia, with 48 percent of users attacked by web-borne threats in 2023.
Authorities are advising the public to stay alert as love scams and other cybercrimes will emerge as Valentine’s Day approaches.
“Stop clicking links. Once you do so, everything will be siphoned off,” Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos said at a press briefing at Malacañang yesterday. — Emmanuel Tupas, Neil Jayson Servallos, Mayen Jaymalin, Rainier Allan Ronda, Alexis Romero