Belize cyber security symposium raises awareness of region-wide problem

sean_fouche.jpg 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.

Belize Leads Caribbean Race To Cyberattack Preparedness

Scandalous Facebook pages carrying the name “Belizean Cheaters” sparked public uproar in the country, revealing sexually explicit details of adulterous affairs involving men, women and even children. The sleazy barrage also stoked nationwide concerns about cyber safety, and the country is now working urgently to finalize cybercrime legislation, train law enforcement agencies and raise awareness among its vulnerable public.

By raising consequential questions about privacy, law enforcement, individual rights and cyber-protection, the sordid incident put a spotlight on the need for a wider public conversation about online safety and Internet governance issues. And the country’s first-ever national cybersecurity symposium, which took place in Belize City from April 24 to 28, proved to be a timely icebreaker.

Hundreds took part in the weeklong event, including judges, lawyers, businessmen, bankers, military and law enforcement officers, network technicians, government officials and lots of concerned citizens. Many were simply taking the rare opportunity to learn about the fundamentals of cybersecurity. But others saw an unprecedented opening to emphatically break the silence around issues of online pornography, cyber bullying, identity theft, computer hacking, pedophilia and human trafficking.

“Belize is ill-prepared legally and otherwise to effectively address these challenges,” said First Lady Kim Simplis-Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children.

“Cyber crime knows no borders, we’re all in this together,” said Adrienne Galanek, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Belize.

“In the United States, we are currently in the process of reviewing our cybersecurity national strategy and we encourage Belize and other nations to similarly review as needed their cybersecurity national strategy.”

Indeed, the week culminated in the formation of a multisectoral task force charged with crafting a national cyber security strategy, working with a wide cross-section of society and with the declared support of top-tier officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin and Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte.

“Cybersecurity is a very important issue. It deserves all of our attention. The government is fully committed to playing its part in protecting our country and our citizens from cyber threats. We will not drop the ball,” Faber said in the feature address at the formal opening.

The high-level talks highlighted the urgent need to update the country’s legal and law enforcement framework to criminalise and prosecute online misdeeds. On this point, the Peyrefitte said the Attorney General’s office was “fully in partnership” with the symposium organisers.

“It has been determined that cybercrime and cyber issues must now have a prominent place among judicial education. With impending legislation, that judicial education has to be fast-tracked,” the Chief Justice said.

The week was hosted by the Belize Public Utilities Commission, and jointly organised by the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), a non-profit that delivers technical training in network security.

“Cybersecurity is a priority for the entire Caribbean. As citizens, businesses, financial institutions and governments place greater reliance on Internet-based technologies, greater attention has to be paid to increasing building local and regional capacity to protect our computer networks and systems,” said Bevil Wooding, executive director of CaribNOG and an Internet Strategist with Packet Clearing House.

“Cybercrime and cyber-safety issues impact all sectors of society. So the crafting of any solution has to involve all areas as well. That’s why a holistic, coordinated, national approach, as seen in Belize, is the most effective way to address the issues related to cybersecurity.”

On the back of this historic event, Belize is emerging as a leader in regional cybersecurity. But much remains to be done. John Avery, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, may have summed it up best in his remarks.

“This symposium is just the start. However, the people of Belize are committed to building on the solid foundation that has been laid.”

Caribbean Girls Under Cyber Attack

One cyberbullying victim’s parents have joined an online campaign speaking out against the alarming practice of posting nude photos of young Belizean girls online. The couple sit facing away from the camera as they recount the episode that forever changed their daughter’s life. The father, slowly and in a plaintive voice, says someone accessed the photo from her social media account and reposted it to a public site. With just a few clicks, the damage had already been done.

“It was a huge blow to our family when it happened. Me and her mother, we tried to be strong for her, and supported her in every way possible, and to try to get over it. It was a terrible thing for her,” he says.

“Be bold for change against cyber violence!” the mother shouts, firing a parting shot in the final frames.

The parents’ testimony is part of an online anti-cyberbullying campaign spearheaded by the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan. The campaign gives voice to a nationwide concern at the trend of posting nude photos and videos of girls and women.

Also speaking out is Kim Simplis-Barrow, wife of Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who is calling for urgent action to protect women and girls from the use of the Internet as “a vehicle for gender-based violence.”

“Globally, cyber criminals are using the Internet for abuse and exploitation, putting our most vulnerable populations at risk. Here in Belize, we have had our own struggle with these issues,” she said.

Pedophiles, rapists and human traffickers must not be allowed to continue using popular Internet-based social media platforms as “a digital hunting grounds”, she said.

The First Lady, who is also the country’s Special Envoy for Women and Children, has worked to bring child sexual exploitation into the domain of public discourse and action.

“Belize is ill-prepared legally and otherwise to effectively address these challenges,” she said.

Speaking at the country’s first-ever national cybersecurity symposium, held in Belize City in April, her brief remarks made a simple yet powerful point: there can be no citizen security without cybersecurity.

Her message found support from a powerful ally.

“Cyber crime knows no borders, we’re all in this together,” said Adrienne Galanek, Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy.

“The cyber world we live in poses very real threats, from exploitation of children to the cruelty of cyberbullying. Predators capitalise on the anonymity of cyber space to target victims, whether to lure them to sexual exploitation or criminal activity. Compromising images of young girls and women are exploited online, while the male perpetrators’ identities are often concealed in shocking videos,” she added.

Only in the last few years the growing cost and incidence of cybersecurity has propelled the subject to the top of the agenda of government and business leaders.

“In the United States, we are currently in the process of reviewing our cybersecurity national strategy, and we encourage Belize and other nations to similarly review as needed their cybersecurity national strategy,” Galanek said.

Many observers across the Caribbean will hope that Belize is only the first in a regional movement to break the silence and take active measures to protect the region’s children and all citizens from cyber predators.

Belize To Host First National Cybersecurity Symposium

BELIZE CITY, Belize—In response to a growing incidence of cyber-threats, Belize will host its first national cyber security symposium from April 24 to 27.

“We have observed a disturbing rise in threats to critical network infrastructure, corporate networks and personal data. These threats are growing more frequent, more sophisticated and more harmful each year,” said John Avery, Chairman of the Belize Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which is jointly organising the event with the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG).

“There has also been a disturbing proliferation of Internet-related criminal activity perpetrated against citizens. Meanwhile, Belizean laws have struggled to keep pace with malicious technology-enabled actors who pay no regard to borders, jurisdictions or local law enforcement readiness,” he added.

The symposium is being billed as an important first step in changing the national discourse around cyber-issues. The four-day meeting is expected to attract a broad range of local, regional and international delegates, including heads of technology organisations, industry executives, government ministers and public sector officials.

Belize has low Internet penetration, less than 40 per cent according to recent World Bank data. As a consequence, cybersecurity issues simply are not top of mind in much of Belizean society. Avery said that the symposium is deliberately aimed at gathering diverse voices and viewpoints, so that a wide range of sectors could lend their strength to the country’s cyber security action plan.

“Our larger objective is the development of a set of actionable priorities for strengthening our cyber defenses, safeguarding Internet users and creating an environment with digital-enabled innovation can thrive,” he explained.

Guarding the Digital Gates Bevil Wooding, Executive Director of CaribNOG and an Internet Strategist with US-based Packet Clearing House, said that the growing concern over increased incidence of cybersecurity threats was not unique to Belize but also affecting the wider region.

“Attacks on corporate networks, financial institutions, government agencies and personal devices have increased exponentially in Belize and the wider Caribbean. There has also been a disturbing proliferation of criminal activity perpetrated against members of society. Our laws and policies have struggled to keep pace with malicious, tech-savvy actors who pay no regard to borders, jurisdictions or local law-enforcement readiness,” Wooding said.

Unlike almost every other Central and South American country, but like most Caribbean nations, Belize has “neither a cyber-defense policy nor a national CSIRT; consequently, cyberattacks are mainly handled by the IT Unit of the Belize Police Department,” a 2016 report on Latin American and Caribbean cybersecurity by the Organisation of American States and Inter-American Development Bank observes.

A Computer Security Incident Response Team, or CSIRT, provides services and support to a community in order to prevent, manage and respond to information security incidents. There are hundreds of these teams in the world, operating within varying mission and scope. CSIRTs are usually made up of specialists across a number of disciplines, who respond in concert to security incidents and follow agreed procedures intended to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks.

“Guarding our digital gates is a collective responsibility. This is why it is so important to have a truly national forum where the threats can be explained to the widest possible cross-section of society, together with practical steps that can be taken to strengthen laws, safeguard networks and protect businesses, citizens and especially our children online. These groups will be collaborating to develop a comprehensive, common approach to securing Belize’s digital future,” he added.

The forum aims to bring together business leaders, network operators, law enforcement agents, and members of the judiciary, legal fraternity, academia and civil society.

The Belize Public Utilities Commission and CaribNOG are coordinating the event on behalf of the Government of Belize, working closely with several ministries and State bodies including the Central IT Office, the National Security Council and the Office of the Chief Justice.  The high-profile event is also being supported by international partners, including Packet Clearing House and the Internet Society, and regional partners such as the Caribbean Telecommunications Union.

More information is available at the Belize Internet Governance Forum website https://cybersecurity.nigf.bz

Global experts focus on cybersecurity in Guatemala

alfredo_verderosa.jpg GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala—Guatemala and other countries of Latin America and the Caribbean must continue to develop a more proactive, all-inclusive response to cybercrime and cyber terrorism. That's the opinion of an international expert panel at a recently concluded regional technology conference.

“Our response to cyber security threats must include broad-based and multi-stakeholder dialogue. The integration of various, diverse voices is foundational to the process of developing a comprehensive understanding of the dynamic threats that exist in our evolving cyber security landscape,” said Guillermo Cicileo, coordinator of security, stability and resilience at the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Address Registry (LACNIC), a non-governmental organisation established in Uruguay in 2002.

LACNIC’s stated mission is to lead the strengthening of a single, open, stable and secure Internet at the service of the development of Latin America and the Caribbean, promoting the collaborative Internet model.

Cicileo was among several cyber security experts gathered in Guatemala City for LACNIC On The Move, a regional technology conference taking place from March 20 to 22.

Anabella Rivera Godoy, head of the Guatemala-based Central American Institute for Social Democracy Studies, called for egalitarian dialogue about cyber security that includes actors and representatives from every sector of Latin American and Caribbean society – governments, businesses, technical community, academic fraternity and community-based organisations.

“The development of cyber security legislation and regulation is very important but is not sufficient to change the behaviour of Internet users. For this reason, policy development must be accompanied by an aggressive agenda to educate the users of technology on their rights and responsibilities,” said Jose Luis Chavez, operations manager at SSASA, a Guatemala-based digital security firm.

LACNIC On The Move Guatemala was held with the support of the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and attracted the participation of global Internet giant, Google.

“The process of hammering out consensus around cybersecurity policy involves ongoing discussion about the kind of Internet that we want and the the kind of Internet that we need. Ultimately, the purpose of regulation is to facilitate the development of an open and safe Internet that we can all enjoy,” added Maria Cristina Capelo, public policy development manager for Latin America and the Caribbean at Google.

The next LACNIC On The Move event is expected to take place in Guyana in July.

Belize to Host First National Cybersecurity Symposium

BELIZE CITY, Belize—In response to a growing incidence of cyber-threats, Belize will host its first national cyber security symposium from April 24 to 27. “We have observed a disturbing rise in threats to critical network infrastructure, corporate networks and personal data. These threats are growing more frequent, more sophisticated and more harmful each year,” said John Avery, Chairman of the Belize Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which is jointly organising the event with the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG).

“There has also been a disturbing proliferation of Internet-related criminal activity perpetrated against citizens. Meanwhile, Belizean laws have struggled to keep pace with malicious technology-enabled actors who pay no regard to borders, jurisdictions or local law enforcement readiness,” he added.

The symposium is being billed as an important first step in changing the national discourse around cyber-issues. The four-day meeting is expected to attract a broad range of local, regional and international delegates, including heads of technology organisations, industry executives, government ministers and public sector officials.

Belize has low Internet penetration, less than 40 per cent according to recent World Bank data. As a consequence, cybersecurity issues simply are not top of mind in much of Belizean society. Avery said that the symposium is deliberately aimed at gathering diverse voices and viewpoints, so that a wide range of sectors could lend their strength to the country’s cyber security action plan.

“Our larger objective is the development of a set of actionable priorities for strengthening our cyber defenses, safeguarding Internet users and creating an environment with digital-enabled innovation can thrive,” he explained.

Bevil Wooding, Executive Director of CaribNOG and an Internet Strategist with US-based Packet Clearing House, said that the growing concern over increased incidence of cybersecurity threats was not unique to Belize but also affecting the wider region.

“Attacks on corporate networks, financial institutions, government agencies and personal devices have increased exponentially in Belize and the wider Caribbean. There has also been a disturbing proliferation of criminal activity perpetrated against members of society. Our laws and policies have struggled to keep pace with malicious, tech-savvy actors who pay no regard to borders, jurisdictions or local law-enforcement readiness,” Wooding said.

Unlike almost every other Central and South American country, but like most Caribbean nations, Belize has “neither a cyber-defense policy nor a national CSIRT; consequently, cyberattacks are mainly handled by the IT Unit of the Belize Police Department,” a 2016 report on Latin American and Caribbean cybersecurity by the Organisation of American States and Inter-American Development Bank observes.

“Guarding our digital gates is a collective responsibility. This is why it is so important to have a truly national forum where the threats can be explained to the widest possible cross-section of society, together with practical steps that can be taken to strengthen laws, safeguard networks and protect businesses, citizens and especially our children online. These groups will be collaborating to develop a comprehensive, common approach to securing Belize’s digital future,” he added.

The forum aims to bring together business leaders, network operators, law enforcement agents, and members of the judiciary, legal fraternity, academia and civil society.

The Belize Public Utilities Commission and CaribNOG are coordinating the event on behalf of the Government of Belize, working closely with several ministries and State bodies including the Central IT Office, the National Security Council and the Office of the Chief Justice.  The high-profile event is also being supported by international partners, including Packet Clearing House and the Internet Society, and regional partners such as the Caribbean Telecommunications Union.

Originally published: Caribbean Journal