Staying one step ahead of hackers is a tough job wherever you are in the world, but in Cambodia it is becoming of vital importance as more businesses make the leap to go online. “Internet security is essential,” says Smart CEO Thomas Hundt. “Whoever uses the internet should take a significant amount of effort, time and investment to protect their data.”
An increasingly digital age brings with it a heightened threat of hack attacks and viruses, which can be detrimental to a business. While large companies, such as leading mobile operator Smart, have the resources to invest in strong protection measures, not all do. And that includes the Cambodian government, according to Leewood Phu, former secretary general of the National Information Communication Technology Development Authority (NiDA) and government advisor. “In Cambodia, individuals are taking security measures for themselves,” he says. “Unfortunately, the government can’t because it doesn’t have the resources.”
In September 2013, Anonymous Cambodia, a network of local hackers, took over three government websites in protest against the elections. The Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, the Council of Legal and Judicial Reform and state-run television station TVK were all targeted and taken offline using a Distributed Denial of Service attack. This followed an attack the previous month on National Election Committee websites. “This is why it is important to keep firewalls and systems updated,” Phu advises.
Heightened security is vital to any business and simple steps can be taken to ensure data and information is not left vulnerable. Installing solid and trustworthy anti-virus scanners and firewalls are essential. Hundt also recommends companies should monitor which apps employees are downloading onto their computers. Other safety measures include changing passwords every three months and using a combination of numbers, letters and symbols. Not downloading torrents – used for peer-to-peer file sharing – using genuine software and installing updates are also advised.
David Benaim, CEO of XL Consulting, an accounting and IT solutions company based in Phnom Penh, stores stacks of clients’ data daily. To ensure it remains safe, he uses cloud technology, storing data on options such as QuickBooks, Microsoft Office 365 and OneNote. “There has been some resistance to the use of clouds in Cambodia because of concerns about internet security,” he says. “People think that because the data is out there and not kept locked away in their office, it’s not safe. There is a risk, but there is also a risk when you put money in the bank. You don’t know where it is.”
Cloud storage offers a series of benefits, such as remote and shared access, unlimited storage for low prices and security as the data is held in a centre with 24-hour security and monitoring, as well as top-of-the-range firewalls, which the majority of SMEs are unable to afford. It also comes with service guarantees, so if the server goes down instead of having to call an IT expert locally it is fixed centrally within minutes. Benaim suggests opting for a reputable brand, such as Google or Apple. “If you go with a smaller company, there is the risk they might go out of business and then what happens to your data?” he says.
Security is a top priority at Smart, where data is collected at a staggering rate every day, and staying on top of the game is a constant battle in the war against hackers. “It is a constant chase,” Hundt says. “The hackers are always one step ahead so we have to try to at least stay equal.”
In a bid to ensure data is safeguarded and kept secure, a dedicated team works constantly on information security, testing the system for loopholes and weak spots. Consultants are also called in to carry out penetration tests to attempt to break in. “This is an ongoing process,” adds Hundt. “We cannot say, ‘my IT set up is secure and leave it;’ it will never be secure.”
Cybersecurity stretches further than just computers, and in a country where smartphone and tablet usage is on the increase at an alarming rate, many forget that these too are also prone to attacks. “Smartphones and tablets are just a shrinkage of a computer; an iPhone is just a small computer that you can phone from,” says Phu, who was behind a masterplan to create a Silicon Valley in Cambodia, which was later scrapped.
iOS platforms offer a safer software environment than Android because of the set up. All apps and programmes that are downloaded through iOS are vetted by Apple, which has a strict set of guidelines. With Androids, it is an open platform and more prone to bugs and viruses. Measures to minimise any risk include turning off any internet access when it is not in use and only downloading trusted applications.
While in Cambodia there remains a reluctance to invest heavily in tough security measures, as the country continues to ride the technology wave, it is a topic that is becoming ever more important, and one that can be started with small steps. “Remember, security starts first with the user,” says Hundt.
FIVE TIPS FOR KEEPING YOUR DATA SAFE
1 Change passwords regularly – every three months is recommended – and ensure employees do the same. Using a combination of numbers, letters and symbols in passwords is advisable.
2 Store and regularly back-up data on a reliable cloud, such as Apple or Google. This also offers remote and shared access.
3 Install trustworthy anti-virus scanners and firewalls on all computers and laptops, and restrict what employees are able to download.
4 Do not download torrents as they often contain bugs and viruses that can be detrimental to hard drives.
5 Use genuine, certified software and always install the updates, as often these will overwrite bugs in the system.