Information security has taken the political spotlight amid concerns that the use of Xiaomi smartphones and some popular mobile messaging services such as Line, WhatsApp and WeChat could compromise personal privacy as well as national security.
Following security tests commissioned by the National Communications Commission on Xiaomi handsets, the government last week confirmed that some of the Chinese-made devices do pose information security risks, but has not decided whether barring officials from using Xiaomi handsets is necessary.
However, the government has ordered civil servants to avoid discussing work-related matters via non-Taiwanese messaging apps because the messages could be transmitted to servers outside of the nation.
The government has not announced any data breaches in its latest findings, but its move once again shows that government agencies and public information networks are vulnerable to cyberattacks. In the past, agencies including the National Security Bureau, the Mainland Affairs Council and the Ministry of Economic Affairs have been the targets of cyberattacks — many of which were traced to China.
The growing popularity and convenience of mobile devices have led to the rapid rise of mobile apps, but their widespread popularity is also an important factor driving the increase in cyberattacks. As such, it is a cause for concern over data security.
There is no doubt that cyberattacks pose a threat to consumers, businesses and governments. While more advanced security systems are being developed to protect personal privacy and sensitive information, cybercrimes constitute a problem that is growing more rapidly than ever.
As Internet-capable mobile devices are used for more functions, they become an easy target for cybercriminals eyeing users’ personal data. Even handset manufacturers can gain access to user data and consumer habits — without consumers’ consent — through the design of their operating systems.
No wonder that Taiwan is one of a few nations in the world experiencing the highest threats of cyberattacks through mobile platforms, since almost 60 percent of people aged 12 and over had smartphones as of June and one-quarter had tablet PCs, according to statistics provided by the Institute for Information Industry.
As the government promotes the development of cloud computing in education, medical services and healthcare to improve its administrative abilities and businesses are looking for opportunities in such technologies in both software and hardware, the nation must develop an effective cyberdefense system.
If there is a way to diminish the security risk to Taiwan, it must be pursued, or the risks will result in stolen personal information, the loss of valuable commercial data or intellectual property and attacks on national security. On the other hand, the growing demand for the protection of user privacy and information security also provides vast opportunities for device manufacturers, security solution developers and wireless telecommunications operators.
The private and public sectors should enhance awareness of data security, improve people’s knowledge about data protection mechanisms and craft a national strategy to reduce negative effects from data leaks. Until Xiaomi smartphones are 100 percent risk-free in terms of cybersecurity, the government should bar officials from using them. In addition, government officials must be required to communicate via homegrown messaging apps, such as Juiker, developed by the Industrial Technology Research Institute, and demand that all communication data are stored in domestic servers.
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