ON Friday, one or more unknown computer hackers chose to mark the Independence Day holiday by breaking into the website of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), temporarily replacing the site’s usual content with a protest message directed to President B.S. Aquino 3rd.
Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte, as she and her colleagues have been obliged to do more times than we can count, later appeared before the media to complain about the intrusion, and to reiterate that those with grievances against the government have a variety of other non-destructive ways in which they can communicate their criticisms and complaints to concerned officials.
The latest in what has become a very long string of “cyberattacks” against government websites was, as has been the case in previous incidents, cleared up relatively quickly and the affected site returned to normal.
Malacañang treated the matter as a rude annoyance. Naturally, the actual points raised by the unknown digital raiders questioning the President’s commitment to fighting corruption and the lack of action toward holding someone to account for the victims of January’s Mamasapano Massacre were completely ignored. While that rather undercuts the “we are not that hard to reach and we are ready to answer the people’s queries,” assertion made by Ms. Valte, we have to otherwise agree with the Administration that attacking government websites is nothing less than pointless vandalism. We can understand and even sympathize in some ways with the frustration behind it, but there are better ways to make a statement.
On the other hand, the Administration errs when it takes such a flippant attitude toward the very real and potentially very damaging risks the relatively harmless incident with the NHCP website highlighted.
Earlier in the week, the US government announced that the IT system in its Office of Personnel Management (OPM) had been invaded, and that personal data for as many as four million government employees may have been collected. The blame was immediately directed at China, whose government just as promptly denied having anything to do with it.
China, however, recently released a white paper that contains, according to one analyst, “the first official acknowledgement of China’s commitment to building a cyber force with the capability to engage in offensive cyber operations.” The US government does a no better job of allaying suspicions; cyber security experts last week revealed the discovery of a sophisticated computer ‘worm’ called Duqu, which may have been used in efforts to spy on recent nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran, and which is believed to have originated in the US or Israel.
Being caught between superpowers who are not necessarily seeing eye-to-eye these days, who have virtually limitless resources and capabilities to conduct “offensive cyber operations,” and have at least implicitly expressed their willingness to use them for a wide and rather vaguely defined variety of purposes, is not a comfortable position. It is especially not when our government’s own systems seem to regularly fall prey to ordinary hackers.
Government complaints about hackers’ bad manners are fine, but we sincerely hope that those responsible for cyber security are taking the growing threats seriously, and that their bosses in the Administration are giving them the resources and freedom to do so.