As the world continues to navigate the waters of the new normal, unprecedented accelerated digital transformation continues to be the need of the hour. However, as organisations increasingly migrate to virtual operations and transactions, there is an urgent need to protect against potential breaches and cyber intrusions. Cybersecurity threats are indeed on the rise. Ransomware and cyber incidents have multiplied, adding to the already complex crisis management morass for many organisations. Executives are now looking for the best and most sustainable critical event management strategy, while also saving time and cost.
In recent months, cybersecurity has been inextricably embedded into operations frameworks of organisations, in both the government and the private sector. Reports showed that companies’ budgets for these systems have spiked by more than 50% and towards the end of 2020, these security solutions were anticipated to form as much as half of the overall funding. Despite this, several agencies are uncertain as to how to adapt these tools and solutions. In the absence of adequate precaution, planning and programmes, many organisations are left stranded and exposed when hit by an unexpected critical event.
Such eventualities can be addressed by setting up a robust critical event management programme (CEM). This was the essence of the OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight: Strengthening Cybersecurity and Emergency Preparedness: Enhancing Readiness, Response and Recovery.
On the 21 January, OpenGov Asia, in collaboration with Everbridge, hosted the OpenGov Live! Virtual Breakfast Insight for senior digital executives from both the public and the private sectors in the Philippines. The event focussed on establishing strong cyber resilience in organisations with effective risk management tools to be fully prepared for managing crises and cyber risks.
The role of critical event management in upgrading work systems
Mohit Sagar, OpenGov Asia’s Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, opened the session with a short introduction of the participants and the topic. He highlighted the importance of having a reliable incident management programme to ward off potential data security risks.
The current scenario in many organisations in both the public and private sectors is a delicate balancing act. He painted a picture of a group of ballerinas in a difficult balancing pose. Like these ballerinas, organisations have to balance technology, customers, employees, regulations and stakeholders in the precarious new normal. If any one of these components fail or shift, the whole construction can crash.
This tightrope act works well when everything is in equilibrium. However, an imbalance, misstep or unmanaged tension can have catastrophic results.
Reflecting on how the world responded to the pandemic, Mohit then questioned the readiness of the organisations in dealing with cyber risks and their continuity plans. Lacunae were painfully evident last year with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology did help manage the pandemic in terms of being able to work from home but was only a temporary solution.
Prior to the pandemic, the need to consider the impact of potentially critical events was more of a theoretical pursuit and organisations plodded along with traditional plans in place. However, when the crisis hit, organisations were floundering, ill-prepared for such a massive disruption. Significant changes were urgently required to just stay afloat.
Many organisations were able to turn things around and somewhat mitigate the impact of the pandemic. But the fact is, not all organisations were able to come out unscathed, and the reality is that there is still a lot to be done to upgrade work systems and processes to accommodate the new normal.
The solution, Mohit said, is not to hope for an auspicious year to get through 2021, but to learn from past mistakes. There is a need to find out what went wrong, develop a better understanding of organisational cyber risks and determine to set a robust resilience plan in place. From this, organisations can incorporate changes in their operation models, retrain employees and most importantly, invest in strategic tools like a critical event management system.
Technology is at our fingertips and it proved to be the saving grace last year. But resilience must not be equated with being able to keep the business running through remote methods.
Mohit emphasised that putting up event management systems must not be shouldered by organisation management alone. Operational resilience is tied to effective communication that is well-received on both ends – employers and employees, management and staff. To do this, ensuring seamless communication is key and becomes crucial in crises. It may come at a price, but in the end, it must be done.
According to Mohit, creating an operational resilience plan is not an easy task. It relies heavily on cybersecurity expertise and professional critical event management systems. Therefore, it is expedient for agencies to work with the right partners to ensure that they have the best strategy in managing upcoming cyber risks.
Setting up an adaptive event management programme suited for each organisation
Sonia Arista, Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer at Everbridge, furthered the discussion after Mohit. She briefly shared her background in information security management and introduced Everbridge.
Everbridge is a global critical events management company that strives to keep businesses running continuously through any events that affect the workforce and supply chain, such as IT disruptions, and to maintain visibility and communications between employees and leaders on events that might affect the business.
Working in information security program management means that half of the time, Sonia needs to oversee product development as well as operational areas. The other half of the time, she is responsible for maintaining the security of Everbridge’s employees’ information and environments and maintaining a standard of security.
This can be challenging for several reasons. First, full visibility in the context of what is happening is difficult to achieve. Second, determining the level of severity of the events and the parties is not straightforward. Thirdly, how to notify relevant people, what messaging is needed, it is a one-way communication or is feedback required can make response complicated.
In short, identifying the appropriate response plan to the event and putting it into action is the name of the game. She also felt that assessment post-crisis is important to determine areas of improvement and potentially developing guidelines for other members in the industry.
To address this, there must be an adaptive critical event management programme integrated within operations models. However, Sonia was quick to acknowledge that deploying a CEM programme is no walk in the park. None the less, the rationale is that the more time spent to impact-proof operations, assets and people the better the resilience during critical events.
Sonia went on to explain her take on simplifying and unifying critical event management. To streamline the whole process, Everbridge views 4 factors to be at the core:
- Assessing an incident
- Locating what is happening, identify stakeholders and assets impacted
- Acting and responding to the event – inform, notify, rally, collaborate, mitigate, fix, and recover.
- Analysing the performance on the course of the incident, and to offer possible improvements on the processes
According to Sonia, there are instances where organisations need to manage multiple crises. Events can happen in tandem and are often caused by multiple factors such as supply chain disruption, disease outbreaks, severe weather, etc. All of these elements together contribute information to the events, and by applying the four core factors mentioned above, an organisation can fully mitigate and resolved any event.
Different business models will have different focus areas and critical event management takes different forms for organisations across various sectors. For example, companies with multiple factories will want to focus on physical access control to maintain standards in their facility, weather services for health systems to predict patient influx caused by natural disasters and threat intel engines in cybersecurity. She underscored this point by showing a list of partners that collaborated with systems such as Everbridge to bring comprehensive intel and context in remediation planning.
Sonia summarised her presentation by acknowledging that there are various programmes that an organisation can utilise. It all depends on which key areas that a specific agency would want to focus on so that the proper critical incident management can be deployed.
Enhancing cybersecurity measures through critical events management
Following Sonia’s presentation, Charlotte Wood, Director of Policy and Awareness of Cybersecurity at New South Wales Government shared her experience with the participants. Her department is responsible for setting standards and providing leadership in cybersecurity and affects all 120 entities in the NSW Government that consist of approximately 400,000 employees.
According to Charlotte, there are 3 pillars of cybersecurity: 1) Confidentiality of digital information held, 2) Availability of the information accessed digitally by people whenever it’s needed and 3) Maintaining the integrity of the digital system and services – data must not be modified improperly, whether maliciously or accidentally
Charlotte explained that the initial question to be answered is: what is an agency trying to protect when integrating cybersecurity measures. As with most, if not all workplaces, protecting the confidentiality of data is paramount, as well as keeping such information intact and readily available. In and of themselves, these two components are not sufficient. There must be workplace safeguards to ensure the integrity of data and that malicious activities do not compromise it.
One way to balance these three key components is by applying a risk-based approach and the NSW Government uses this methodology. With their standard, they address the level of risk in 3 main areas: 1) Technology and Infrastructure – in protecting their digital system and services, 2) Procession and Organisation – the standards set and 3) People and Culture – the employees’ understanding of cybersecurity
However, more critical than these 3 areas is the risk and impact of the events to the people of NSW. The risk level dictates how they prepare for the attacks, and how they prioritise the different attacks. The risk-based approach has allowed the NSW government to have a standard framework that will work in different agencies with different needs.
Mitigating the impact of critical events does not end with a cyber risk approach. It is a holistic process that improves on key aspects of the workforce including retraining employees. She added that while the notion that cyber threats can be prevented is a myth, agencies can mitigate impacts by training people and by putting up a solid cybersecurity framework.
Charlotte concluded her talk by reiterating that investment in a cybersecurity programme is a continuous cycle. As data breaches become more sophisticated, systems must be improved and defences against these threats must be fortified. Organisations can do this through prevention and simulation of potential threats.
After the engaging discussion by the speakers, participants participated in polling questions and discussions regarding their risk management and cybersecurity protocols, as well as the challenges that they see in this area.
When asked about their key concerns around cybersecurity in their organisations, nearly half (49%) of the attendees voted for employee education in IT security.
A delegate from the Department of Energy said that educating employees is one of the major hurdles that his agency is experiencing. The reason is that most employees fail to grasp the importance of cybersecurity and because of this, the responsibility is left in the hands of IT professionals.
An executive from the Department of National Defense shared the same sentiment. She noted that with their current remote work programme, educating employees and enforcing security policies has become more difficult.
When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of cybersecurity architecture, two thirds (66%) of the participants said that they do this by looking at the ability of the organisation to respond effectively to impending cyber threats. Data protection, threats response and effective mitigation are their main measurements.
Interestingly, 20% of the participants stated they did not have any measurement and wanted to learn from the others. One participant from the government said they are interested to find ways to measure this area in their cybersecurity policies.
The third question was on how the participants rate the level of preparedness of their organisation to cyber threats. Few were unsure and some admitted that they are not well prepared. 45% of the participants felt that they are prepared but they have doubts if it can withstand infiltration.
The fourth question asked the participants on their biggest challenge for accelerating their response to IT incidents, a large portion, mostly government officials, voted it to be the lack of skilled Cybersecurity or IT professionals. They experienced budget constraints and felt policies in hiring these professionals were difficult to follow.
For well over half of the delegates (60%), the lack of skilled Cybersecurity/ IT Professionals is the biggest challenge they see in boosting their cybersecurity protocols. Others felt information overload and alert fatigue to be challenging since IT incidents involved not only cybersecurity but also operations.
The last question was on how participants’ security operations are currently driven. For the most part, delegates said they were compliance and incident driven but now realise the importance of risk-based or intelligence-driven parameters and were working towards it.
The session came to a close with Sonia stressing the need to establish a critical incident management programme in order to ramp up cybersecurity in the overall organisational framework.
She re-emphasised how different elements contribute to an incident and that it is important to look beyond the confines of technology. Keep educating and spreading awareness, pick up intelligence from suppliers and partners that are helpful for the organisation in responding rapidly to events in an automated consistent fashion.
Sonia thanked the participants for their wonderful insights and contributions and encouraged them to reach out to her team and her on their CEM journey.
As banking becomes more increasingly online, and with the data touchpoints on the rise, AI and ML have become an integral part of a bank’s DNA. It is a natural outcome that the more the data touchpoints, and the wider the data exposure, the greater the chances of things going wrong. Understanding this vulnerability, banks and financial institutions are keen on deploying AI/ML to keep a check on fraud incidents.
To get a better insight into how banks are adopting and adapting new technology and what is the future looking like for them, OpenGov Asia had a conversation with Dr David Hardoon, Senior Advisor for Data and Artificial Intelligence, Union Bank of Philippines.
David acknowledged that the rise in digital data points, as a result of increased online banking, has necessitated leveraging technologies like AI and ML to derive actionable insights. Additionally, more financial institutions see the benefits of adopting technology to keep fraud in check. The headway in security has encouraged them to scale it to other core functions like floor management, compliance, and regulation.
This is an almost-radical departure as historically there has been a reluctance in adopting technology among financial institutions due to unfamiliarity and the stern regulations around it. The pandemic has driven this paradigm shift, forcing organizations to think beyond their existing boundaries and comfort zones.
David noted that even the support office is catching up with the front office in terms of robustness, scalability, and capability to know when something is wrong. This is driven by the need to ensure a smooth and secure online experience for the customer.
On being asked about the notion that online malls and shopping sites are leading the way in customer experience and engagement over online banks and financial institutions, David agreed the banking industry is lagging but highlighted an important issue. The pandemic has driven people online but there is a fundamental lack of trust among customers engaging with such e-commerce sites.
“Trust is an equity financial institutions have, he opined. But it needs to be leveraged appropriately to build customer engagement online.”
Speaking about fraud and risk management in financial institutions in the post-COVID-19 era David shared that there has been a tremendous increase in the adoption of technology among banks. The strategy has been to use existing systems and adopt/adapt more sophisticated data techniques to achieve operational efficiency.
Banks are also focusing on taking the marketing mantra of hyper-personalization to compliance. David shared that data is the tool that equips banks with the ability and capacity of seeing and engaging individuals as individuals. Adding to this, he believes that such technologies can only be deployed in an institution when the top management believes in its power.
Elaborating on the future of AI/ML in fraud, David believes that the conversation is going to shift from digitizing the front office to bringing in the latest technology in the middle and back office in financial institutions. Apart from focusing on driving top-line growth, companies will need to get a better handle to know if anything wrong or irregular is happening.
David is confident that discussions around using AI/ML to manage fraud and risk will convert into action. The implementation might not be uniform across all institutions, but will it will move forward. Bigger institutions who have focused teams and resources will look to develop in-house fraud and risk management systems initially. A major reason behind it is the need to understand the complexities and difficulties associated with this process. Once they have familiarized themselves with it, they might partner with experts who champion the field.
All in all, David is an optimist who believes in the power of AI/ML, in risk and fraud management, and believes that conversations around it will get more operational.
Economies across the globe are streamlining their blueprints in a bid to foster economic recovery despite the challenges brought by the new normal. To do this, they are amplifying their digital initiatives faster than anticipated. Likewise, they are embracing a change in the cultural mindset to enhance their processes.
Key economic sectors are getting support from the government in terms of technological advances. This is evident in the manufacturing and retail industries. Exports are likewise getting a boost from tech as governments strive to make their products more globally competitive and in the long term, be a growth pillar for the economy.
In the Philippines, key areas of the economy are given priority following the onset of the global health crisis. From physical transactions, several government agencies are implementing online schemes to not just fast-track their correspondence with the public sector but to adhere to safety restrictions as well.
Assistance to various sectors of the Philippine economy has been launched and made more convenient through digital tools. This is seen in the innovative measures used by the government not just in providing ease in public transactions but in key areas like social assistance. In an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said that it will be releasing livelihood settlement grants of LSGs to various households in strife-torn Marawi City through a mobile app.
To promote ease in doing business for players in the agricultural sector, state-run Landbank of the Philippines (LBP) announced in a statement that it has installed its Digital Onboarding System or DOBS in its first Agri-Hub in the province of Ilocos Sur.
The online banking system is intended to simplify account opening applications by reducing transaction turnaround time to 10 to 15 minutes. It is likewise anticipated to adhere to safety protocols implemented by the Inter-Agency Task Force during the new normal. It does this by minimising physical contact and promoting remote transactions.
The bank was recognised for launching the DOBS, a web-based programme it launched two years ago to streamline account enrollment processes. This feat made the LBP one of the first lenders in the Philippines to offer a fully digital account application process for individuals, institutions and government agencies. The system was also set up with goals of promoting regulatory compliance in data quality through easy gathering, storage and retrieval of digital bank records.
Launching a new Agri-Hub
The Landbank, through Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar, stated that the banking scheme, as well as the Sta. Maria Agri-Hub, “are expected to bring financial services closer to more bank clients in the rural area.” This is in conjunction with President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive that the LBP must cater to the needs of farmers, fisherfolks, agrarian reform beneficiaries and agriculture enterprises.
During her speech at the inauguration of the Sta. Maria hub, LBP North Luzon Branches Group Head and First Vice President Ma. Belma Turla noted that the agri-hub is set to provide both financial and technical services to clients. These include account opening, withdrawal and cash encashment. Loan applications and handling of agrarian-related concerns may likewise be facilitated through the hub.
The LBP’s Sta. Maria Agri-Hub is the fifth of its kind established in the country. The state-run lender said it has established these facilities in sites including Calabanga, Camarines Sur; Barotac Viejo, Iloilo and Sual in Pangasinan. Meanwhile, the Echague Agri-Hub in Isabela was earlier put up in a bid to cater to more than 2,500 farmers across 64 barangays in the municipality.
The Sta. Maria hub is expected to speed up account-related transactions for farmers and fisherfolks not only within the Sta. Maria locality but to those from neighbouring towns and municipalities.
In less than a year, the new normal has ushered in several years’ worth of innovation. Remote workstations have replaced the physical workplace, and office meetings are now held through online video conference calls. This is the scenario in many enterprises that have embraced the changing norms brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the public sector, governments are constantly on their toes while looking for innovative tools to help revolutionise their existing work blueprints. Digitalisation has shifted from being a mere buzzword to a reality that needs to be achieved. Accelerating towards digital transformation is the top priority for most economies looking at fostering recovery from the impacts of the pandemic while still maintaining the right balance of governance and transparency in dealing with the increased demands of the public.
In the Philippines, several key initiatives have been launched to mitigate economic challenges. According to an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the government announced it is injecting more funding this year in the National Broadband Programme (NBP) spearheaded by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). The NBP is the flagship project of the department which aims to improve internet connectivity in the country, particularly in remote areas.
In line with such government efforts, government-owned and controlled Davao City Water District (DCWD) said in a media release that it is doing away with physical transactions and is leaning towards the adoption of online services to promote ease in doing business within the locality.
The DCWD said it has adopted virtual chat support services to respond to customers’ queries on their billings. The service is available 24 hours and seven days a week to cater to the public’s needs, particularly regarding their Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) instalment bills.
DCWD Spokesperson JC Duhaylungsod said that instead of sharing their concerns in private groups in social media where there is no participation of DCWD employees, consumers should talk about their concerns directly in the DCWD’s Facebook account. She added: “Just go straight to our Facebook page, we can immediately give the transaction record. We can explain where the payment went and if there are ECQ instalments remaining.”
The water utility’s spokesperson clarified that once concerns have been raised and the DCWD finds irregularities in billing amounts, it will automatically make a report to be endorsed to the appropriate departments.
For other concerns, the DCWD mentioned that customers may contact the department’s call centre via their landline and mobile phones.
This programme comes after the DCWD suspended its billing collections and offered a staggered payment scheme called ECQ instalments. The initiative was a form of assistance to households within the area from March to May last year when the government placed several parts of the country under community quarantine to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
During this period, meter reading operations were suspended and as a result, the DCWD began to apply average consumption percentages in water bills. The three-month ECQ billing was spread into six instalments, each one added to water bills from July to December last year.
The DCWD spokesperson noted that: “since it is already January 2021 and the instalment term is completed, we are reminding those still with a balance in ECQ instalments to settle on or before the due date of their December billing to avoid penalties in their ECQ instalments.”
The water utility has earlier informed the public that those who are interested in availing their services may choose to submit their applications online by downloading and filling out a form available on their website and social media account. They can also browse through a list of requirements that need to be presented once they apply.
Enterprises and government agencies alike are increasingly shifting their gaze to online payment portals as tools that can help them navigate through public transactions more conveniently. This is as the world recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic which has left major economies accelerating faster in their digital transformation journey.
In the Philippines, several government departments are experimenting with ways to integrate online payments into their operations. These include teaming up with other agencies and those in the private sector to ensure a speedy and more efficient turnaround in transactions.
This vision is shared by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) which in a statement announced that it has inked a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with state-owned LandBank of the Philippines (LBP) for the integration of web-based payments for MARINA services.
The agency explained that under the agreement, the MARINA Payment Facility will be integrated with the Landbank LinkBiz portal. This portal is currently being used as a virtual payment channel that allows government and members of the private sector to have cashless payments for MARINA’s products and services.
The LinkBiz portal was earlier launched to lessen direct and indirect costs that are attributed to cash and physical distribution of in-kind goods. The LBP likewise aims to foster accountability and effective tracking of funds on top of prioritising online payments instead of cash transactions to unclog traffic and in turn, save on operation costs.
The portal is equipped to handle large-value funds and quick confirmation of payments through email. It can be accessed by the government and the public sector seven days a week, except during system maintenance.
According to Capt. Jeffrey Solon, who is the Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the Deputy Administrator for Planning of MARINA, the department is optimistic that the new virtual payment facility will bring in more convenience and efficiency in government transactions. He also expressed gratitude on behalf of his organisation to Landbank for the collaboration.
He added during the virtual signing ceremony: “With the eventual implementation of this memorandum of agreement, the MARINA looks forward to maximising the use of this e-payment facility as our modest contribution to the government’s efforts for ease of doing business, and also to adhere to the principles and practices of good governance.”
This statement was echoed by officials from the LBP, adding that they are anticipating that the cashless payment service will enable them to also fast-track their financial dues from MARINA. Marilou Villafranca, the Senior Vice-President of the North National Capital Region Branches Group of the LBP, noted: “Following our MOA signing today, this e-payment facility will be made available to your clients, allowing them to settle their monetary obligations to MARINA in a faster, more secured and convenient manner.”
The MoA signing was well-attended by officials of both MARINA and the LBP, including the Senior Vice-President and the OIC of MARINA’s Office of the Deputy Administrator and the MARINA Administrator Vice Admiral. Officers of LBP’s North NCR Branch Groups Cluster also attended the online event.
The agreement is alongside government efforts to improve the current business climate in the Philippines and government transparency. Republic Act 11032, which promotes the ease of doing business and efficient delivery of government services, was enacted in 2018. It enhanced and amended the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 by reducing processing time and eliminating red tape activities in government.
To achieve these goals, many agencies in government are gearing towards digitalisation to fast-track transactions and lessen turnaround time. As earlier reported by OpenGov Asia, a local government in the Philippines has adopted a zero-contact policy. The programme required all departments within the local government to adopt electronic means in the submission of government applications, requests and payments.
The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has far-reaching implications in both the private and public sectors. Many economies are re-shaping their operations to adhere to safety protocols and restrictions present during the new normal.
In the Philippines, local government units (LGUs) continue to build on reforms that were earlier introduced by the national government not just to abide by restrictions during the pandemic but also to provide an overall conducive climate for business and government transactions. One of these reforms is in keeping with the Ease of Doing Business measure signed into law to ensure faster, more convenient dealings in government.
To adhere to this initiative, the local government of Cagayan De Oro (CDO) City announced that it is adopting a zero-contact policy as provided for under Ordinance No. 13992-2020. Under this policy, departments within the local government of CDO shall be required to adopt electronic submission of applications, requests and payments whenever applicable.
City officials and employees shall communicate with the public through email, the local government’s website and other electronic means. They are required to limit their interaction with applicants of business permits and other public documents during the preliminary assessment stage. This phase covers the evaluation of all requirements submitted for government requests and applications.
The protocol shall be observed for all transactions, except those which necessarily need physical interactions with city officials or employees. These include payment of application fees and transactions considered as highly complex and technical that would require the knowledge of government employees. In contrast, simple transactions were defined as requests which require only ministerial actions on the part of public officers, or those that present inconsequential issues to be resolved by the department concerned.
As provided under Chapter 3 of the local ordinance, transparency shall be observed at all times to ensure a more efficient system of providing government services and to dispel any perception of corrupt practices.
The CDO’s ordinance is in line with Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 2019-001. The primary aim of the government under the JMC is to promote integrity and accountability in government. This can be achieved by fostering proper management of government affairs and by establishing “practices aimed at the efficient turnaround in the delivery of government services”, as well as the prevention of graft and corruption. The implementation of simplified processes to mitigate instances of red-tape activities is also mandated under the JMC.
The joint memorandum contains the implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018. It provides for the implementation of a Whole-of-Government Approach. This process covers the review of existing and applicable laws, regulations and issuances earlier made by the government. The goal is to enter into a re-engineering process so that all measures are inclined towards streamlining existing government processes.
The measure also provides for a Citizen’s Charter for every government agency. This forms the basis of efforts and the overall performance of organisations. The Charter shall likewise be the basis of rewards and incentives to be awarded to offices for their good performance.
The CDO government is among several local units that have adopted innovative methods in boosting their operational blueprint. In the realm of healthcare, LGUs have been increasingly investing in digital programmes to address public needs. As previously reported by OpenGov Asia, the provincial government of Davao Oriental adds to efforts toward digital transformation. It is poised to implement the Davao Oriental Digital Contact Tracing System. Under the DAVOR-DCTS, residents, non-residents and tourists shall have their own Quick Response (QR) Codes when transacting with public establishments in the province.
As businesses and government organisations continue to feel the effects of strict health protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to digitalise and boost virtual connectivity is made more apparent. The Philippine government has long realised this challenge and as a solution, it is now fortifying broadband services in a bid to accelerate its digital transformation.
To help ramp up internet connectivity in the country, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) announced that it has launched its Free Wifi for All Programme (FWAP) in state-universities located in Baguio City. The department said that they have installed free Wi-Fi hubs at the University of the Philippines Baguio (UPB) and the Benguet State University (BSU), two of the biggest state universities in the whole Cordillera region.
The DICT added that students, faculty members and visitors in UPB were able to use the free internet hubs earlier as the installation of these hubs started before the national government placed the city under enhanced community quarantine due to the pandemic in March last year. It stated: “Students who were stranded on campus were then able to utilize the connection early on.”
To attest to the efficiency of the free Wi-Fi hubs, students of the university alluded that the project of the DICT proved to be vital for those who rely on broadband services to keep in touch with their friends and families during the lockdown. They explained: “Right now, the free Wi-Fi service is being used by school personnel and those who visit the university for any concerns, and even our students here in Baguio who are still going here for their academic concerns.”
In BSU, the DICT said that several Wi-Fi sites were installed at the College of Nursing and the College of Agriculture. Officials at the university lauded the initiative of the DICT and underscored the importance of free broadband services in facilitating alternative learning programmes for their students. Dr Jude Tayaben, the outgoing dean of the BSU College of Nursing, explained: “We’re planning on online and limited face-to-face [classes], and most of the resources that we have now are in need of internet connection. This is a blessing that will help our facilitators and learners.”
The department said it is amplifying efforts to increase the number of free internet hubs in other public areas and state-owned education facilities and universities. In its statement, the DICT said they are set to put up more Wi-FI hubs at the Bokod and Buguias Campuses of BSU not just to expand the coverage of its programme but to assist in the online learning systems to be implemented by the University.
DICT’s FWAP aims to enhance internet accessibility for the general public by providing free internet access in a host of public places. These include national and local government offices, public schools, state universities and colleges, government hospitals, rural health units, public parks, plazas and public libraries.
The DICT is also the government agency responsible for the implementation of the National Broadband Programme or NBP. The government is at the fore of supporting the department in rolling out the NBP. As earlier reported by OpenGov Asia, this year’s budget for the programme has been increased to a total of PHP 1.9 billion (US$ 39.5 million).
In a separate report, the DICT said it has installed 4,305 broadband spots in areas across the country. This figure has increased significantly when compared with data recorded in the last four years. For three years since 2016, the number of live sites launched was at 3,000. There are currently over 7,000 Wi-Fi sites in the country.
As the world grapples with the lifestyle changes brought by the new normal, governments and organisations are seeing the need to set stricter security measures during this age of digital transformation.
One of these institutions is the Philippine Senate which is looking at investigating alleged cases of hacked credit cards and online bank accounts. This announcement comes as these new forms of fraud continue to rise amid a steady increase in online transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a media release, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banks and Financial Institutions, said that the resolution to probe into cases of phishing and online bank theft is an initial step to stem the growing number of these cases. The investigation is also seen to ward off future digital scams.
The senator expressed concern about the sophisticated methods that have been devised to lure and scam the public through digital means. He added: “Despite the fact that we have mechanisms, it turns out that they are not enough so the thieves continue to carry out this kind of theft.”
The Philippine government has initiated early on several initiatives aimed at addressing issues in cybersecurity and bank fraud. Among them is Republic Act 8484 otherwise known as the Access Devices Regulation Act. It outlines liabilities of parties in commercial transactions by regulating the use of access devices like cars, codes, account numbers and electronic serial numbers.
Similarly, RA 9792 or the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000 was adopted to foster an information technology-friendly climate that supports information and communications technology products and services. The Act covers any data message and electronic document in both commercial and non-commercial activities like international dealings, transactions and arrangements.
The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 builds on the foundation set by the E-Commerce Act. As the government continues to harness the advantages of leveraging digital products and solutions, the Cybercrime Prevention measure aims to combat offenses related to online transactions and arrangements by “facilitating detection, investigation and prosecution at both the domestic and international levels.” Aside from this, the current Data Privacy Act is being carried out to set security measures to shield valuable consumer data gathered from different transactions.
The senator also underscored that although these legislations have been helpful in improvising schemes to prevent data breach and theft, the public remains vulnerable to online activities like phishing, hacking and stealing of personal information.
These scenarios have been made more apparent today with consumers increasingly looking at the ease and convenience brought by digital programmes in helping them accomplish their everyday, mundane routines. At the onset of safety restrictions and health protocols, new software applications have been devised, particularly in online shopping and promotion of cashless, virtual transactions. One of these efforts is in the transportation sector. As reported by OpenGov Asia, cashless payments in tollways have already been adopted to ease traffic congestion.
The senator said that with the proliferation of this wide array of digital schemes, there may be loopholes and aspects not covered by existing laws in the country. One of the solutions to this hurdle is to encourage institutions that offer digital transactions to reinvent their existing online procedures and fortify their security programmes. This way, data security will be made effective.
To further explain, the senator highlighted that the onus in ensuring data security for bank transactions is on financial institutions. He emphasised, “[The] obligations of banks and companies offering lighter electronic transactions [are to] guarantee the welfare and security of their clients, as well as their personal information. Even if they upgrade their services, evil spirits will also be bold enough to cover up their theft. The banking industry must also have a mechanism to immediately address the grievances or complaints of their customers.”