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Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs Strengthen Cybersecurity

The Finance Secretary, Carlos Dominguez III, has directed the country’s main revenue-generating agencies the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to strengthen their systems against hacking and other cyber threats. At a recent Department of Finance (DOF) Executive Committee (Execom) meeting, the Secretary made the announcement and expressed concern over the increasing number of scams perpetrated online against financial consumers.

According to a press release, Dominguez urged the agencies to keep their cybersecurity measures up to date and effective against cyber-based threats. He recalled the recent hacking incident involving BDO Unibank and the Union Bank of the Philippines and the complaints of several teachers about losing money from their accounts. He said that this is proof of the rise in cyber-attacks as more Filipinos resort to online transactions to avoid face-to-face interactions amid the pandemic.

The bank had already issued a statement saying that its systems remain secure against any form of hacking and that its initial investigation showed the teachers were the victims of phishing. Phishing is a scheme where hackers pretend to be legitimate banking representatives either by sending fake emails or text messages via bogus bank websites to obtain confidential bank details.

The Finance Undersecretary, Antonette Tionko, who oversees both the BOC and BIR as head of the DOF’s Revenue Operations Group (ROG), claimed that cybersecurity measures are being strengthened by the ongoing digitalisation and modernisation programmes of the two agencies. Before the pandemic broke out in March 2020, Dominguez directed DOF and its attached agencies to vigorously pursue their respective digitalisation programmes to help boost revenue collections and further improve the delivery of services to the public.

He ordered government financial institutions (GFIs) and other agencies under the DOF to work together in coming up with a cost-effective defence strategy that will shield their respective systems from potential cybersecurity threats along with other possible risks and data breaches in the digital landscape. He instructed GFIs, state-run pension funds and insurance agencies, and the revenue and treasury agencies to enter into their respective memoranda of agreement (MOAs) on a shared cyber defence strategy.

Last month, OpenGov Asia reported that the BIR has a total of 49 projects in the first phase of its ten-year Digital Transformation (DX) Roadmap, of which 14 have already been launched or implemented as of the last quarter of 2021. BIR said that 26 of the 49 DX projects involve elevating taxpayer experience and innovating BIR service processes. Nine are on enhancing administration and the BIR’s support services and another eight are on aligning policies to a BIR digital workplace. Six more are on enabling the digital backbone of the Bureau.

The BIR said its ongoing DX programmes, which have expanded the range of electronic payment channels that allow taxpayers to file and pay their taxes online, enabled the Bureau to continue collecting taxes even amid the mobility restrictions that had been put in place during the pandemic.

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