The Vietnamese military has begun training Cambodia police in cryptography and encryption techniques as part of a national plan to protect “state secrets”.
Em Sam An, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, signed a new agreement between the ministry’s cryptography department and the Vietnamese Ministry of Defence last Thursday, according to a the National Police website.
The cryptography training has been accompanied by the installation by the Vietnamese military of secure networks for communication and data storage in key government departments dealing with policing, foreign affairs, defence and intelligence.
Kirt Chantharith, deputy National Police chief, said in a video posted on the police website that Vietnam had agreed to send cryptography experts to train police to encrypt and protect electronic data stored on government servers relating to strategic decision-making areas such as national security and international relations.
Officials yesterday were unclear as to whether the equipment provided by Vietnam would only be used for encrypting government data, or if it could also be used to spy on its recipients.
Ouk Sarot, director of the cryptography department of the National Police, said he did not think that Vietnam would have access to government data from the networks they had installed.
“Previously, Vietnam has trained us how to use code to encrypt information, and now some of us can do it by ourselves,” he said.
“This is aid and … Vietnam cannot access [sensitive] information, because we make it private. We will not use the same [encryption] codes they train us with. We will change them. I doubt they can access our information,” he said.
Kem Ley, a former political analyst who founded the Grassroots Democratic Party, expressed concern that potentially giving a foreign military an inside look at how the government manages its computer systems at a time when the countries are locked in a dispute over their shared border was unwise.
He said that Vietnam can already potentially spy on the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces as it provides its telephone network, through Hanoi-owned Viettel.
“It’s a worry that Cambodia’s cryptographic systems are being built under cooperation with Vietnam amid tense border relations,” he said.
Sarot said that Vietnam has in the past installed computer equipment for the police and at military bases, including a $300,000 encrypted communications network.