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Belize pioneers with 1st national cyber-security forum

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Apr. 24, 2017–On the occasion of Cyber Awareness Day 2017, Belize this morning took a pioneering step in bringing together a wide cross-section of internet users, regulators, educators, law enforcement officials and even members of various arms of government, including the judiciary, for a week-long symposium to address the pervasive threats posed by cyber-bullying, cyber-crimes and related security threats.

The event, being held at the Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza, was organized by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), in an effort to raise national awareness of the pressing issues, but also to lead the way towards the drafting of the country’s first national cyber security framework, to be concluded by December, to address the requisite laws and training needed to tackle the issues, as well as to raise public awareness and lead a sustained effort on what has become one of the world’s leading security concerns.

In speaking with the media today, Adrienne Galanek, chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Belize, noted that everyone – government agencies, private sector firms, young people or adults — is vulnerable to the threats that cyber-crimes and cyber-violence pose.

“No one is immune, unfortunately… we are all in this together and that’s the importance of forums, like this one,” Galanek said.

The United States is participating in the 5-day symposium, and it is providing an information technology expert, who will speak on what the US State Department does to protect itself and to educate users, while US law enforcement officials will speak on combating criminal networks which exploit the digital landscape.

Bevil Wooding, executive director of the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CARIBNOG), internet strategist and Caribbean Outreach Specialist at Packet Clearing House (PCH), told the press that this is the first time that such an ambitious undertaking is being executed in the wider Caribbean.

“What is happening here is unique, because it brings together every single stakeholder under one umbrella for an entire week to look at cyber-security as a national problem. This forum is going to be addressing the issues, such as statistics: where are we, what are the threats, what are the challenges?” he noted.

Wooding said that, “we don’t just have a chance here to shape how Belize approaches cyber security. What we are in fact doing is defining a model that the entire Caribbean can follow. We are pioneering and leading in the forming of a new mechanism and a new approach to cyber security issues that is more relevant and more appropriate to the entire Caribbean.”

With Belizeans enjoying greater access to the Internet, as well as smart watches and more digital devices in their homes, cyber-security becomes a growing concern, he underscored.

“As we are seizing the opportunities of the digital age, we are exposing ourselves to greater and greater risks… there is no responsible movement into the technological future without attention being paid to education, awareness and action as it relates to securing what we are calling our digital borders, and that’s where the work is!” Wooding said.

Social media users, who he said are the most important constituents in this process, are the most vulnerable, he explained. Day 2 of the forum will include a public forum in which members of the public can learn about cyber security and cyber safety with practical steps for protecting the youth, home networks, smartphones and personal data, organizers say.

Wooding said that it will provide an opportunity for the man on the street to come and ask the questions that cannot be asked in other fora. The message to users is: “…be afraid; be very afraid… but then be prepared, be aware, be informed, be educated,” he added.

(Amandala thanks KREM News for its assistance with this report.)

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