February 26, 2014
Lebanon’s newest battlefield: the Internet
|The Daily Star|
|Mona al-Achkar Jabbour, president of the Lebanese Information Technology Association, speaks during a Cyber Security conference in Yarzeh, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)|
YARZE, Lebanon: Attacks can come by land, sea or air. These days, however, they are increasingly coming through our phone lines and our computers with no warning – all with the click of a mouse.
Lebanon, already a hotbed for traditional warfare, has every reason to fear cyberattacks.
“Lebanon is an obvious target, because … parties in Lebanon are in the middle of the conflict,” Stephane Bazan, head of cyberwarfare research at Université St. Joseph in Beirut, told The Daily Star at a conference on cybersecurity Wednesday. “As we saw in 2006, we don’t have many strategic targets. The national infrastructure isn’t much. But there are a lot of private interests. Banks are a sitting duck.”
Noting the variety of competing foreign interests in the country, he added, “ Lebanon could be a good platform for attacking someone else. A lot of computers here are infected with viruses because of the low IT security.”
Today, the threat of cyberwarfare is at the forefront of countries’ national security policies, as traditional defense strategists scramble to catch up with today’s perplexing World Wide Web of information.
As part of this process, academics, IT experts and members of the Lebanese military met for an all-day conference at the Officers’ Club in Yarze to discuss cybersecurity, possible future threats against Lebanon and ways to help safeguard the country’s national and financial institutions against online breaches.
Lebanon’s cybersecurity measures are poor at best.
Two years ago, a group called Gauss sent viruses from an unknown location to attack Lebanon’s banking sector, incidentally shortly after the U.S. had accused a Lebanese bank of money laundering. Several months before that, 16 Lebanese government websites were hacked by the group Raise Your Voice.
Today, the majority of company websites in Lebanon are hosted overseas for the exact security issues these attacks highlighted. The country’s low credit card penetration is in part due to a public perception of low online security for financial transactions, while government websites have barely begun to roll out online services that they were meant to introduce 10 years ago.
In addition to government and financial safety, there is also the issue of personal privacy, which civil liberties advocates argue can’t be divorced from discussions about national security.
This problem has become more sensitive in recent years as people become increasingly dependent on technology in their daily lives and as governments throughout the world use the Internet to monitor and sometimes crack down on citizens who engage in dissent. Earlier this month, Lebanese Web developer Jean Assy was sentenced to two months in prison for “defaming and insulting” President Michel Sleiman on Twitter.
Mona al-Achkar Jabbour, president of the Lebanese Information Technology Association, told the conference there was an urgent need for strong cybersecurity laws: “In Lebanon, there’s no legislation. Without that we can’t secure cyberspace.”
“People are concerned about their privacy and civil liberties,” Jabbour told The Daily Star. “Everywhere in the world there is news of surveillance and civil liberties abuse and the erosion of privacy.”
Looking ahead, Jabbour predicts more challenges as hackers become more sophisticated and citizens and governments put more data online.
Suggestions from the conference on ways to face the problems included establishing committees, increasing coordination between relevant parties at all levels and initiating an education campaign to fight “cyber ignorance” in Lebanon.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 27, 2014, on page 4.