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Addressing cyber threats in Bhutan

Between 2016 and 2018, Bhutan Computer Incident Response Team (BtCIRT) under the Ministry of Information and Communications resolved 275 cyber threats from government institutions and organisations in the country.

Out of 275 incidences, 230 were related to system vulnerabilities and 26 malicious codes.

The sixth annual conference of Bhutan Network Operators Group (btNOG-6) in Paro last week discussed the importance of understanding cybersecurity to invest effectively in both security and new technologies.

A senior ICT officer with BtCIRT, Sonam Choki, said that phishing, ransomware attacks, and crypto mining were were some of the rising cyber threats in the country.

Incidence of phishing was observed in the past where a government official received an email from mails.upgrade.settings.gmail.com, an illegitimate source. Phishing lures individuals to provide sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking, credit card details, and passwords, among others.

“Data showed that the hacked websites decreased from 2016 to 2018, but it is increasing since the beginning of this year,” said Sonam Choki, which was due to cybersecurity advocacy programmes conducted in 12 dzongkhags.

Currently, there is no overarching strategy through which the government can coordinate its approach for cybersecurity. However, last year, the national cybersecurity strategy was drafted with technical assistance from the International Telecom Union.

Other than addressing the concerns and expectations of stakeholders, the strategy focused on online child protection programmes.

To encourage reporting incidence of cyber threats in the country, BtCIRT plans to collaborate with Government Data Center to implement SSL certificates in 10 websites and develop a how-to manual to guide the other system owners to implement similar setup in their websites.

SSL certificates are used to secure credit card transactions, data transfer and login, and secure browsing of social media sites.

According to the report, BtCIRT will gather information on attack pattern and conduct workshop on secure coding.

The conference discussed the need to have system controls and security measures in place to counter cyber attacks. Users were advised to use stronger passwords, upgrade the system to the latest version and maintain proper backups.

Focusing on securing ICT centres in offices, Sonam Choki said that most offices had open access to IT rooms, which expose the system to cyber attacks. Creating awareness to the end users was considered an important part of cybersecurity.

In Bhutan, the cyber cases in the past were content-related, such as defamation on Facebook or pornography.  However, getting information from service providers was difficult during these cases due to lack of awareness and documentation among ICT users.

BtCIRT was founded in 2016 to enhance cybersecurity in Bhutan by enabling cybersecurity information, coordination, and establishing computer security incident handling capabilities within the country.

The workshop was attended by ICT professionals and engineers.

Choki Wangmo

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