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BELIZE CITY, Belize -- Imagine doing a routine check on your bank account only to discover that an entire month’s worth of credit had been swiped from your card. The nightmare became reality for one elderly Belizean couple, who fell victim to identity theft.
For Alejandro and Leandra Chulin, the story started five years ago with a troubling phone call from their son, who was at the time studying abroad. He had been trying to use their credit card but couldn’t. A few quick checks with the bank confirmed their worst fears. Someone had already maxed out the limit, racking up enough purchases to leave the Chulins in the hole to the tune of several hundreds.
The money was recovered but the trauma remains. And now that Belize is taking much-needed steps to address identity theft and other cyber threats, the Chulins are making the most of an unprecedented opportunity to lend their voice to the national effort and to learn how to be more cyber safe.
The country’s recently concluded national cybersecurity symposium brought together bankers and customers to put a spotlight on the growing incidence of cybercrimes against banks. While the Chulins sat in a forum designed to explain cyber threats to the general public, the country’s finance sector representatives gathered at the Central Bank for a special forum focusing on practical strategies to defend against escalating cyber attacks against financial institutions.
The weeklong meeting highlighted major gaps in the region's readiness to respond to cyberattacks on financial institutions.
“The threats are not imminent, they are here. There are exploits that are occurring all across the Caribbean,” said Carlton Samuels, an independent IT consultant and lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus in Jamaica.
“It is commendable that Belize is developing a national framework for building awareness, regulatory responses, detection and prevention,” he added.
Samuels was among several regional and international cybersecurity experts addressing participants on technical issues such as the vulnerabilities of automated teller machines and social issues such as email fraud via phishing attacks.
The panel covered a broad range of topics, including how to detect security attacks, the pros and cons of public disclosure of cyber attacks, and best practices for recovering from cyber attacks.
The symposium, held from April 24 to 28, was organised jointly by the Belize Public Utilities Commission and the Caribbean Network Operators Group, a nonprofit organization that works to safeguard the region’s computer networks.
"Cybersecurity is a priority for the entire Caribbean. As our citizens, businesses, financial institutions and governments place greater reliance on Internet-based technologies, greater attention has to be paid to increasing our capacity to protect our computer networks and systems. And the crafting of any solution has to involve as many viewpoints as possible,” said Bevil Wooding, one of the organizers of the event and an internet strategist at US-based Packet Clearing House.
"That’s why a holistic, national approach, as seen in Belize, is the best way to address the issues related to cybersecurity,” he said.
More than 700 stakeholders took part in the weeklong national symposium, including law enforcement officers, judges, lawyers, business executives, government officials, computer network professionals, educators and other concerned citizens.
On the back of this historic event, the nation of Belize has emerged as an unlikely leader in the region, presenting a model for how other Caribbean jurisdictions can prepare for, defend against and respond to growing cyber threats.
BELIZE CITY, Belize -- Large, well-funded and highly organized crime syndicates are behind many of the cybercrimes taking place in the Caribbean. And regional governments and security agencies are challenged to respond.
“Today's cybercriminal is no longer just a computer geek looking to see what mischief he can create. Modern cybercriminals are increasingly being employed, trained and resourced by transnational crime syndicates,” said Sean Fouché, information and communications technology manager at CARICOM IMPACS, an agency responsible for regional crime and security.
“Recent reports have revealed that cybercrime is now even more profitable than the global drug trade. Based on intelligence from the Regional Intelligence Fusion Centre, we are also seeing that cybercrime is now being coupled with the illicit drug trade and human trafficking. This is feeding into a much larger issue of transnational crime.”
Fouché was speaking at Belize's first national cybersecurity symposium, held in Belize City from April 24 to 28.
“The Internet is now being used by terrorist organisations to recruit young people in the Caribbean. CARICOM IMPACS is looking at the link between these terrorist activities and the region's illicit drug trade. What we’re seeing is that it’s all connected,” he said.
He added that cybercrime is a regional problem that requires a coordinated regional response.
"This is why CARICOM is working to assist Belize as well as other governments of the region."
Unlike almost every other Central and South American country, but like most Caribbean nations, Belize has “neither a cyber-defence policy nor a national Computer Security Incident Response Team,” according to a 2016 report on Latin American and Caribbean cybersecurity by the Organisation of American States and Inter-American Development Bank.
To address this, Belize organized a week-long national cyber security symposium to draw participants from the public as well as from law enforcement, the judiciary and legal community, government and the private sector.
“The high turnout at Belize's cyber security symposium is indicative of the importance of the subject, not just to technocrats or technology experts, but to everyone,” said John Avery, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which regulates to Belize telecommunications sector.
The symposium was jointly organised by the PUC and the Caribbean Network Operators Group, CaribNOG, a non-profit organization that focuses on cybersecurity and technical capacity building.
“This is the first time that such an event has happened in Belize. Based on the high level of public interest we are also hoping this can be used as a model to usher in a new period of cyber security awareness and preparedness across the entire Caribbean," Avery said.