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Keeping out the cyberthieves

Keeping out the cyberthieves

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As Cambodia begins to embrace the benefits of internet banking and

hi-tech thieves try to take advantage, many in the industry have

started to invest heavily in cybersecurity.

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

A clerk uses a computer system at a Phnom Penh bank. Online banking security will become increasingly important in Cambodia as the industry develops internet and mobile services.

While the expansion of Cambodia's banking sector may expose it to more security threats, industry officials remain confident that security technology will grow in kind.

"There are hundreds of people trying to hack into our system every month, but they can't break in," said Terry Mach, ACLEDA Bank's information technology manager.

By expanding its IT budget every year, to US$4 million in 2009 compared with $3 million last year, ACLEDA is able to keep pace with the growing numbers of online thieves who have set their sights on Cambodia, he said.

In its most aggressive initiative, the bank has contracted professional penetration testers from Australia to search for weaknesses in its online network.

ANZ Royal Bank's chief executive, Stephen Higgins, says he expects cyberthreats to Cambodia's banking sector to escalate, but from a low base level that will remain manageable.

For ANZ, security is managed from its headquarters in Melbourne. Higgins said cyberthreats were more prominent in Thailand and Vietnam, "but it's not something we take for granted. We are always upgrading".

Sao Volak, chief executive of Campura Systems Corp, a technology systems firm, said Cambodian banks are now using a wide range of modern technology including firewalls, data encryption and user protection and detection systems to protect their electronic networks.

There are hundreds of people trying to hack into our system every month, but they can't break in.

Last month saw the introduction of another cutting-edge banking tool that could offer a major boon for the security of money transfers in the Kingdom.

ANZ's WING mobile phone banking system could prevent theft common with remittances, which traditionally have been sent from urban workers to their families in the countryside through an informal network of couriers, friends and moneylenders and which are sometimes lost, stolen or skimmed from in hefty service charges. ACLEDA has said that it intends to launch its own mobile payments system by the end of this year.

But to be effective, security systems needed to be backed by robust government legislation, Sao Volak said. "In other countries where cyberattacks on banks are a major issue, their governments create cyberlaws, cyberpolice and even a cybercourt to protect banks and bank users from being susceptible to such attacks."

Last year, the government launched the Cambodian Computer Emergency Response initiative to monitor all electronic systems in Cambodia, including those for banking, as well as the Financial Intelligence Office to address money laundering. Phu Leewood, secretary general of the National Information Communication Technology Development Authority (NIDA), said his office hoped to open its planned Information Security Task Force this year to guard against threats to online information such as viruses and hackers.

While the Kingdom is getting into the swing of hi-tech banking security, even if considerable gaps remain, ACLEDA's Terry Mach says banking security remains as good as the manpower behind it.

"I think everything depends on its surrounding environment. If we buy the latest technology software but don't have people to handle the work, security will not improve," he said. 

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