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Missing Link In Cybersecurity Is Education!

When it was announced last year at the Malaysia Budget 2021 that Cyber Security Malaysia will be given a RM27 million allocation, many industry players were hopeful that this could be used to establish opportunities for cooperation among more security analysts and academicians in the country, to provide qualitative exposure and development of cyber security software.

by K. Vatsala Devi
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cybersecurity education in schools

While there was jubilation, there were also certain disconsolate quarters who felt that cybersecurity budget is not a match for cyber attacks that continue to increase, even more during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic that disrupted almost every country on the map, had necessitated many new norms such as work-from-home, social distancing, mandating the need to wear a mask, online education and learning and just staying at home to flatten the curve.

While the governing bodies have been working hard to keep society safe, cyber criminals have been having a field day since 2020. In Sophos’s survey report titled “The Future of Cybersecurity in Asia Pacific and Japan” which was done in collaboration with Tech Research Asia, it had highlighted that cybersecurity budgets have remained stagnant and executive teams continue to underestimate the level of damage threats can do to organizations.

In a press statement, it said, 44 per cent of Malaysian organizations say they fell victim to a successful cybersecurity attack in the last 12 month and nearly 50 per cent of organizations surveyed suffered one to 10 attacks, per week. This clearly indicates that we as a nation do not have enough cybersecurity awareness, education, and infrastructure.

This brings to question on what an increased budget can accomplish and where can the funds be channeled to better improve the nation’s and its people’s cybersecurity hygiene and awareness.

Improving Internet Connection for Education

As soon as we talk about improving internet connection, one incident that stands out and had garnered international attention is the one where last year while Malaysians were locked in under the Movement Control Order, a Sabahan university student had to climb a tree to ensure she had good internet connection to sit for her exams. While her resourcefulness was impressive, it raises the question why she even needed to resort to such extremity.

According to BBC, Veveonah Mosibin lives in Sabanalang Pitas village, in a remote part of the eastern state of Sabah, where broadband services are limited. There is no electricity or running water in her house and Mosibin has said she charges her mobile phone at the houses of relatives and neighbours who do have electricity.

This clearly indicates that the education sector should be prioritized during the tabling of Budget 2022, specifically focusing on provisions to improve internet access and digital devices following the home-based Teaching and Learning (PdPR) system which will be continued in the new norm.

In an article in Malay Mail, the National Union of Teaching Profession of Malaysia (NUTP) president Aminuddin Awang said he hoped that the government would provide allocations to upgrade the internet system in schools to facilitate the PdPR sessions in the post-Covid-19 era.  He added the allocations for the purchase of device and internet access for poor students should also be given attention as the PdPR session is expected to continue in the endemic phase.

While having less than adequate internet connection is a grouse, one should also consider how with steady and reliable internet connection should be paired with proper cybersecurity education and awareness that would lead to individuals practicing proper cyber hygiene from grassroot levels that eventually will become a lifestyle.

Many Are In Agreement That Education Is Pivotal

Interestingly enough, on 20th Sept 2021, The Vibes had reported that Maszlee Malik, the former Education Minister under the Pakatan Harapan’s ruling had said that digital education and cybersecurity must be taught in schools to minimize digital illiteracy in the country. Speaking at the Dewan Rakyat, he said that as the government initially tackled the problem of illiteracy following the country’s independence, it must now tackle the problem of digital illiteracy.

education is the key
Maszlee Malik, the former Education Minister

The article quoted “Whether we like it or not, digital literacy is a necessity for people in the 21st century. Digital illiteracy is a big issue, especially when the country is adapting to the fourth industrial revolution.”

In that article he also explained that the people’s dependency on digital technology today has forced us to ensure the country’s digital illiteracy rate is reduced.

“Digital illiteracy would make an individual easy prey to criminal scams, abuse, human trafficking and other types of frauds, crimes, and manipulation of the cyber world,” he further added.

The article went on to report that the former education minister urged the government to take the issue of digital literacy education seriously, saying that all schools must have cybersecurity and digital literacy education as part of their curricula.

He said education institutions must also make digital and cybersecurity subjects compulsory and available in courses they offer so that Malaysians become digitally literate.

“We must remember that cyber-awareness is needed to ensure that the community lives in harmony. In a multi-racial and multi-cultural country like Malaysia, fake news and the spreading of racist sentiments and accusations could destroy the government and country, to which he added can be avoided if society is equipped with a high level of digital and cybersecurity awareness.

Tech Giant Microsoft Concurs

Microsoft too shares Maszlee’s sentiment. In one of their newsletter, they wrote about how with more workers using personal and corporate devices interchangeably, it is even more important to be cyber aware. As new vulnerabilities arise, security for all becomes even more integral to organizational success.

It further added employees still falling prey to phishing scams at alarmingly high rates, and according to the 2020 Gone Phishing Report produced in partnership with Terranova, it’s not just smaller, under-resourced organizations that are at risk. Large, well-equipped organizations have proven to be even more vulnerable.

Microsoft in its newsletter also stated that training and education continue to be top of mind for security professionals and their organizations. According to the data from The SANS 2021 Security Awareness Report, over 75 percent of security awareness professionals spend less than half their time on security awareness, implying awareness is too often less than a full-fledged effort. During the pandemic, 32 percent of survey participants reported an increase in time spent educating and supporting users on security practices on an ad-hoc basis.

This clearly shows there is hope for education in cybersecurity to be first and foremost before other initiatives can be rolled out.

In the “Cyber Security: Towards A Safe And Secure Cyber Environment” report written by Academy of Sciences Malaysia in 2018, it states that Malaysia currently has a centralized cyber security governance structure both at national and sector level.

At the national level, the e-Sovereignty Committee is chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister that reports matters concerning cyber security of national interest to the National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister.

As a secretariat to e-Sovereignty Committee, the National Security Council Prime Minister’s Department leads the national cyber security initiatives as well as the cross-sector communication through the e-Sovereignty Working Group and various national cyber committees in coordination with the Sector Leads.

So it is hoped that these committees and agencies can put their heads together and present a better budget and plan targeted at enhancing the cybersecurity education and awareness in the county and at every level, including all walks of life.

Will our cybersecurity wishes be granted? Stay tuned to ESPC for more updates!

Image source : Maszlee Malik’s Instagram account

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