With borders fully opened since March last year, Southeast Asia (SEA) has resumed travel and tourism after more than two years of lockdown. The digital habits formed during the pandemic, however, remain intact with the region’s internet economy forecasted to reach $330 billion in 2025.

The increased adoption and dependence on digital services – online shopping, mobile banking, cryptocurrency, and more – continue to shape SEA’s threat landscape.

Last year, Kaspersky’s Vitaly Kamluk, Director of Global Research & Analysis Team (GReAT) for Asia Pacific, predicted four cybersecurity trends for 2022:

Scams did continue to plague users in Southeast Asia. In Singapore, the top 10 online frauds have incurred a total of $227.8 million just in the first half of 2022. Incidents of love scams and sophisticated job scams syndicates were also recorded, with monetary and real-life fatalities as unfortunate consequences.

“Another day, another data breach” also became a common headline in the region last year. Data leaks have become normal breaking news involving diverse victimology including state-owned firms, airlines, hotel chains, coffee shops, payment gateway service providers, universities, cryptocurrency apps, and more.

Attacks on crypto exchanges also continue. Binance became a victim of a $570 million-worth of attack back in October and some $1.7 million in NFTs were also taken by hackers from Opensea users.

2022 also kicked off with BlueNoroff attacks. “As our investigation showed, this advanced persistent threat (APT) actor attacked small and medium-sized companies worldwide resulting in major cryptocurrency losses for the victims. The campaign, dubbed SnatchCrypto, is aimed at various companies that, by the nature of their work, deal with cryptocurrencies and smart contracts, DeFi, Blockchain, and the FinTech industry. And it looks like there’s more to go,” Kamluk explains.

With the continuing economic turbulence, inflation, tourism exodus, and its geopolitical climate, expert at Kaspersky shares the key trends that will impact the cyber threat landscape of SEA region in 2023.

The hunt for geopolitical intelligence

A general election is expected to take place in Myanmar in 2023, between 1 February and 1 August. The election will be the first after the 2021 military coup d’état. Since the coup, the military has ruled the country under a state of emergency, which has been set by Acting President Myint Swe for the maximum constitutional duration of two years.

“The unstable political situation in the country poses threats and opens opportunities for Myanmar’s neighbors as well as global political powers. Since the start of 2021, we have mentioned Myanmar in 10 APT reports. We believe that the country will be in the crosshair of geopolitical intelligence operations in 2023,” says Kamluk.

Privacy and cloud infrastructure attacks

According to a study by Harvard Kennedy School, Singapore is in the TOP 20 countries in the National Cyber Power Index. It’s the smallest country by territory and population included in this TOP 20. This reveals the technological advancement of Singapore, but also makes it an interesting target because of deep digitalization of its infrastructure.

Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency (CSA) launched The Cybersecurity Industry Call for Innovation (CyberCall) in 2022 to enable companies to innovate on cybersecurity challenges put out by Critical Information Infrastructure and strategic stakeholders in Singapore.

“While we fully embrace the initiative, the call highlighted that the country is interested in cybersecurity innovations in cloud security, IoT, OT, as well as privacy-enhancing technologies and AI. These could be possible weak spots abused by the attackers. In fact, privacy of Singaporeans, for example, has been a long-term concern, especially after multiple data leaks and breaches, including the SingHealth hack in 2018. In addition, Singapore is a big connectivity and hosting hub as well. In the near future, we may observe cyber incidents related to privacy and cloud infrastructure,” Kamluk explains.

The same concern about privacy can be observed across the region. To help curb attacks on user’s data, laws on data regulation and privacy have been passed last year, particularly the data privacy law in Indonesia and the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) in Thailand.

More data breach incidents

Data protection has a long way to go in Southeast Asia. As cybercriminals continue to sharpen their tools and widen their victimology, enterprises and organisations in the region should continue to build on their IT security posture.

“While 2022 is a milestone year for the region in terms of countries stepping up their regulations to protect users’ data and privacy, it was also the year of major data breaches. Regardless of the sector or industry you are in, businesses and organisations here must know that opportunists are after your data and they will try to infiltrate your networks through all possible means. A comprehensive defense based on actionable and in-depth intelligence is necessary,” adds Kamluk.

With the majority of cyberattacks starting through phishing email, Kaspersky suggests companies to invest in increasingly comprehensive cybersecurity measures like XDR (eXtended Detection & Response) as well as deploying more thorough user education to raise cybersecurity awareness.

More reports from Kaspersky Security Bulletin (KSB) – an annual series of predictions and analytical reports on key shifts in the cybersecurity world – are available here.

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