The Philippines has made significant progress in both its private and public sectors by adopting the latest technologies. However, this digital transformation has also brought new challenges in terms of national security, as the country is increasingly vulnerable to both local and international cyberattacks. Hackers can now breach online banking accounts, and scammers can steal millions of pesos from unsuspecting citizens. With the advancement of gadgets and apps, cyber threats have become more sophisticated, posing a greater risk to Filipinos, especially as they rely on mobile wallets like GCash. Additionally, distinguishing between fake websites and messages and legitimate ones has become increasingly difficult.
To address these cybersecurity concerns, the government established an ad-hoc agency called the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC). I recently spoke with CICC Undersecretary Alexander K. Ramos to shed light on the agency’s crucial role in safeguarding the nation. Ramos explained that the CICC was created in 2012 through the enactment of Republic Act No. 10175, but due to political conflicts, it didn’t become fully operational until 2021. Under the administration of President Bongbong Marcos, Ramos was appointed as the CICC Undersecretary in August 2022.
One of the initial challenges that Ramos identified within the agency was the lack of a physical location for effective coordination and collaboration among government bodies, as required by law. The establishment of a physical office would facilitate better communication and participation from various government agencies in addressing the growing threat of cybercrimes.
Ramos also highlighted the evolution of the CICC in terms of knowledge, skills, tools, and policies. To strengthen the agency, he brought in experts from diverse technology fields, such as retired generals, judges, and cybersecurity professionals. Moreover, he emphasized the importance of the agency’s 24/7 availability to assist citizens in need, as the CICC aims to be an enforcement and solutions agency.
The CICC’s capabilities have been recognized by various government agencies, leading to their collaboration. For example, the Bureau of Immigration partnered with the cybersecurity agency to prevent overseas employment scams targeting overseas Filipino workers. The CICC has also played a crucial role in resolving serious cyber threats, such as tracking down foreigners involved in crimes and assisting in improving online security at NAIA Airport.
According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Philippines has experienced a significant rise in cyber threats, with cybercrimes increasing by 433% from 2017 to 2021. Undersecretary Ramos explained that this increase could be attributed to Filipinos being more willing to report incidents, thanks to the establishment of facilities like the Women and Children’s Desk and the Online Complaint and Assistance Center. These platforms allow citizens to report incidents through emails and chat messages, making the process more accessible and user-friendly.
The CICC has taken proactive measures to address growing cybersecurity threats, particularly account hijacking, which grants online criminals access to others’ accounts. The agency has launched public information campaigns, sharing tips on securing online accounts through its website and social media platforms. It has also introduced Scam Watch Pilipinas to encourage citizens to report online fraud. Furthermore, the CICC has recognized the emerging threats posed by blockchain and artificial intelligence, assigning a team to address crypto crimes and monitor the misuse of generative AI in facilitating online crime.
In conclusion, the Philippines has been rapidly adopting new technologies under President Marcos’s leadership. To mitigate online risks, the CICC has been working diligently to improve digital government systems, enhance awareness of internet safety, and provide assistance to citizens who have fallen victim to cybercrimes. The agency’s efforts are aimed at ensuring the cybersecurity of the country and protecting its citizens. Citizens who suspect they have been targeted by online scams can seek assistance by calling the scam response hotline or contacting the CICC through their social media channels.