South-east Asia is vulnerable to “cyber-terrorism” and an Internet-based attack on critical facilities or institutions is inevitable, a regional security official said today.
Yean Yoke Heng from the Kuala Lumpur-based Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism said at a security conference that the region was not properly prepared for a high-tech assault.
"The threat is real and we are vulnerable," he told reporters.
"It’s not a question of how or what, it’s only a question of when." Terrorists could go online to steal social security numbers, funds from bank accounts and shut down power plants and banks, he said at a forum attended by experts from across the region and the US.
"Even if one were to exclude the risk to life and limb, the economic losses caused by any destruction caused by a cyber attack would be very severe."
Rohan Gunaratna from Singapore’s Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies said that regional terrorist outfits were not yet capable of mounting such an assault, but that they were avid users of the Internet.
Groups including the Jemaah Islamiyah network, which is linked with al-Qaeda, are using the Internet "as a medium to create a new generation of radicalised Muslims that are vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist groups," he said.
He told reporters that terrorist groups were using the Internet "very effectively to distribute propaganda, to recruit, to raise funds and to co-ordinate terrorist attacks." "It will take a very long time for Southeast Asian groups to develop the capabilities to attack the Internet," he said.
"Instead of attacking the Internet, they are using it to promote their organisation, their aims, objectives and goals." Gunaratna urged governments to work more closely on the issue, saying that there is currently "a lack of understanding."
"Unless Southeast Asian countries work together with the Western nations, they will be lagging behind," he said.