(Source : New Sarawak Tribune dated 19th January 2021)

Husin Jazri

Cyber warfare is as much about psychological strategy as technical prowess.

– James Scott, Senior Fellow, Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology

Privacy is a right that every human holds dearly as it is a necessary part of life, just like oxygen and water.

In the realm of cybersecurity, data privacy is so important and effectively all necessary measures shall be taken to protect these data against any unauthorised access, misuse, abuse, or misrepresentation by anyone and it should be protected from insider and external threats.

The right to cybersecurity and privacy is required at all levels, which include individual level, family level, organisational or company level and governmental or national level, and possibly beyond to cross border groupings and regional pacts in various forms.

The world’s most popular instant messaging app, WhatsApp, had just announced a controversial change to its privacy policy. The app is now forcing users to share their personal data with its parent company Facebook for advertising. The company has warned users they “need to accept” these new terms before February 8, otherwise their accounts will be deleted. Essentially, it is a “take it or leave it” situation.

The amount of private data this messaging app is collecting on Malaysia alone is so huge, and from a national security perspective, the aggregation of it, if processed, is enough to deduce information of strategic and tactical importance on Malaysia. We could be checkmated by the accuracy of this information.

By highlighting this perspective, it is not my intention to criticise WhatsApp, because its owner has every right to decide what is best for their business and future. These circumstances are also the same with alternative messaging apps recommended. Signal messaging is still under US influence. Telegram is influenced by the Russians. WeChat, used by many Malaysians as well, is influenced by China.

The point is, what happens to us, Malaysia? Are we saying that our technical capabilities — despite having more than 100 colleges and universities, many IT companies around, coupled with government technical agencies like MDeC, CyberSecurity Malaysia, Mimos, SDEC, Centex, and the like — are not good enough to create one good messenger app similar or better than what was presented by these foreign companies? Are we prepared to let go our future, even if it will narrow opportunities of our future generations in the long term?

Let us do some self-reflection and get our heads together to address this important issue of data privacy. Our data is flowing freely out of our cyberspace and enriching others at the same time. If nothing is done, we are leaving only “rice crust at the bottom of the pot” for our own people and the economic future of Malaysia.

We can do better than this and move forward with alternative solution to Malaysians, and possibly the world.  If we recall, we won against the Communist Insurgency because our strategy was correct; the Keselamatan-Pembangunan-Kesban (Security and Development) concept was introduced as an integral part of national planning and governance strategy to win, and it worked very well!

We are of no difference than of that era, except now we are engaged in an agile digital war, with economic domination. The same integral formula can be applied and with innovative modifications, we can surely win again. Our nation needs one integral strategy with effective implementation to win this digital war.

Government and local industry players are an integral part of this digital strategy to make it work, and this time in a complex digital war. The casualties are a lot worse, with slow death of many generations to come, not being able to compete in the open global economy and with prolonged economic impact.  We can potentially become slaves in our own land.

Back to the subject, to address the immediate privacy needs and to further enhance data protection in Malaysia, Serba Dinamik E-Security and Privacy Channel (ESPC) team has worked on practical solutions on secure messaging apps with our strategic partners since last year.

ESPC Secure Messaging is now ready to be deployed as a cloud-based solution. This app is designed with locally coded published algorithms, suitable for individual, governmental, and commercial use.

In Europe, the EU has upgraded privacy protection to the next level by introducing a new data protection law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This law is aimed at protecting all EU citizens anywhere and enforceable cross border, reaching any possible global companies that collect and keep EU citizens data.

GDPR has generated new source of income to EU through effective enforcements and with many successful court verdicts. Big companies such as Facebook and Google, were implicated with big sum of money for these violations. “Personal Data is the new ‘oil’ of the 21st century”, quoted from the World Economic Forum (2011).

Malaysia should emulate EU seriousness in protecting data privacy and to relook at our PDPA law with a better enforcement model that can help grow our nation’s economy into a global market.

A bigger hope for me, being a founder of many cybersecurity projects locally and overseas, is the opportunity to serve the local markets, both the government and private sectors, and netizens with this locally developed messaging app. This small step if supported well by the federal and state authorities can grow faster and create new job opportunities, especially post Covid-19 pandemic era, where jobs are scarce and job creations are so vital during global economic slowdowns and hopefully, we can deliver good tax-return back to the Malaysian government.

Till then, stay safe and healthy. Always verify first before you click, to consent to any offer in this digital world.

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: hjazri@e-serbadkgroup.com/drjazz@espc2go.com)

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