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Hong Kong CERT wants bigger team to tackle cyber threats

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Hong Kong’s Computer Emergency Response Team (HKCERT) has called for more resources to help it step up attempts to proactively monitor and deal with attacks on organisations in the special administrative region (SAR) of China.

Speaking to The Register, centre manager Roy Ko argued that the nature of the threats facing businesses in the region today means the CERT can no longer rely on old ways of responding to incidents.

“When we started out ten years ago people used to call in and we’d try to solve their problems over the phone, identifying what kind of attack they’d experienced,” he explained.

“Then later we noticed some cases like web defacement where people were not aware of the problem, so we tried to take a proactive approach to inform victims of hacking and other activities.”

The CERT checks all .hk sites for suspicious activity but it wants to expand this to .com and .org addresses for organisations based in the region, and make the whole process of receiving, processing and actioning information on compromised machines seamless and automated, he added.

“This year we plan to analyse all those compromised machines in Hong Kong. We’ve started the exercise – consolidating all the third party sources of information – and then we need to pass it on to the relevant parties, usually the ISPs,” said Ko.

“In the past it was done in not such a systematic way. The goal is to get it fully automated. We’re also planning our own sensors so that we can collect our own information on attacks.”

Considering the huge amount of wealth generated by the SAR and the attractive target which its many rich multinational businesses represent to financially motivated cyber criminals, however, Hong Kong’s CERT is under-resourced.

“We need to expand the scope of our service especially when it comes to monitoring activities in Hong Kong and see whether we can analyse earlier to do more preventative work,” said Ko.

“We have a very small team compared to other CERT teams. It’s not enough.”

Legislative councilor Samson Tam explained to The Reg recently that tightening information security regulations, investing more in education and awareness raising and ploughing further resources into the Technology Crime Division should be priorities for the new Hong Kong administration, but made no mention of the HKCERT.

Despite its lack of resources – the CERT occupies a small bank of desks on one floor of the Hong Kong Productivity Council building – Ko’s team appears to be forging effective relationships with government, law enforcement and its fellow CERTs in the region.

For example, the HK CERT participates in a working group every two months with the local police force’s Technology Crime Division and the government to identify any breaking threats and other areas they can work together such as awareness raising campaigns, he explained.

The HK CERT also has a “good communications channel” in place with the mainland China CERT, which Ko revealed is “very well resourced”, with an HQ in Beijing and regional headquarters throughout the People’s Republic.

He explained that this co-operation has helped the Hong Kong team identify the location of attacks on Hong Kong organisations launched from the mainland. ®

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