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End of pandemic year — reflections and expectations

by ESPC Reporters
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By Datuk Dr Husin Jazri

As we approach the end of 2020, we shall look back how cybersecurity and privacy gained prominence and interest during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today, we are living in a new norm, wearing masks, taking temperatures and even registering via MySejahtera Mobile Apps to track our movements.

Since we have started working remotely, there is now a huge demand for digital solutions with stronger security and privacy features.

The way we conduct meetings has also changed dramatically. We use Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, CISCO Webex and Skype.

Physical meetings are reduced to avoid close contacts and thus reduce the risk of getting too close to Covid-19 carriers.

Universities and schools hold virtual classes and the evaluation mode and approach to education have also changed considerably.

Unfortunately, cybercrimes, cyber safety and privacy breaches are also on the rise during the pandemic based on statistics provided by various computer emergency services around the world, and Malaysia is no exception.

The Macau Scam was in the limelight in 2020. It started as a telecommunication fraud allegedly by syndicates from Taiwan and China. In Malaysia, the Macau scammers have been very creative in duping people. Many fell victim and lost their pension funds.

Around 4,865 investigation papers on Macau Scam syndicates were opened by the police.

MACC seized 730 bank accounts with funds amounting to RM80 million, RM5 million in cash, along with 28 luxury cars including Ferraris, Bentleys, Rolls Royces and Lamborghinis related to the scam.

Massive amounts of money accrued by the scammers cannot be possible without exploiting digital technologies to its full limit.

There were also questions on citizen’s privacy in the MySejahtera application. This issue could have been easily mitigated by enabling an independent trusted third-party validation and assurance process. I believe these questions were not addressed scientifically.

Early this year, we also learnt that Tiktok was able to read data on users’ phones. The reality is, the security and privacy risks associated with mobile apps are not only affecting individual users but also companies, organisations and government agencies they work with.

Now, here is an interesting question. Should leading cities and states be allowed to protect their digital citizens from digital threats? Or should this matter be left alone to each digital citizen to address individually? 

This could be a good perspective to discuss further on ESPC (eSecurity and Privacy Channel) in the coming year.  ESPC’s URL is https://www.espc2go.com.

An emerging issue arising from digitisation in 2021 and beyond is technology addiction.

Technology addiction is an impulse control disorder that involves the obsessive use of mobile devices, the internet or video games, despite negative consequences to the user. The disorder may also be referred to as digital addiction or internet addiction.

Technology addiction is a behavioural addiction that causes excessive and prolonged interaction with technology. It is not an official diagnosis in the DSM-5. In the United States, the DSM serves as the principal authority for psychiatric diagnoses.

Many researchers, however, believe addiction to technology is real. They also liken it to other drug addictions. A brain chemical called dopamine is the main driver.

It is thought that technology affects the pleasure system in the brain, similar to drugs and alcohol. Some studies have shown brain scan similarities in people who overuse technology and people who abuse drugs. It appears that the overuse of technology also affects attention, emotional processing, and decision making.

Many access points promote dependence on technology. These include the internet, cell phones, tablets, video and computer games, social media, and lifestyle technologies.

Technology addiction can lead to many issues. Some of these include loneliness, anxiety, depression, isolation, sleep deprivation, vision problems, back pain, headaches, and weight gain.

There is no consensus on treating technology addiction. One reason is that there are still different schools of thought on this disorder. However, recognising the problem is the first step. Therapy is the cornerstone of treatment. Cognitive-behavioural therapy helps with modifying cognitions and behaviours. Treating underlying mental health disorders is also vital.

The most common technology addiction is internet gaming disorder. Persistent and recurrent use of the internet to engage in games leads to significant impairment or distress.

Symptoms of this technology addiction are as follows: 

• Preoccupation with internet games;

• Withdrawal symptoms when internet gaming is taken away;

• Less tolerance with time because of the need to spend increasing amounts of time gaming; 

• Unsuccessful attempts to control participation in internet games; 

• Loss of interest in previous hobbies and entertainment; 

• Excessive use of internet games despite psychosocial problems;

• Deceives family members, therapists, or others regarding the amount of internet gaming;

• Use of internet games to escape or relieve a negative mood; and

• Jeopardising or losing significant relationships, job, or educational or career opportunity because of participation in internet games.

In digital space, prevention is better than cure and we must embrace a lifelong learning approach to protect ourselves and families from cybercrimes. Always stay safe!

Happy New Year 2021!

Assoc Prof Col (r) Datuk Dr Husin Jazri CISSP is Senior Vice President Cybersecurity, Serba Dinamik Group Berhad and Chief Editor of ESPC.

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