View of Taipei at night

Taiwan to strengthen cyber-security measures in face of persistent attacks

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The government of Taiwan is to take measures to bolster its cyber security, following persistent cyber attacks in recent years and fears that foreign states may meddle in the state’s upcoming elections.

Taiwan (officially known as the Republic of China) is in practice autonomous, although not recognised by the United Nations due to the People’s Republic of China’s claims of sovereignty over the island. Taiwan enjoys highly advanced digital infrastructure, although in contrast to China it also boasts high levels of internet and press freedom.

However, Taiwan has increasingly become a popular target for foreign hackers. According to a 2013 report by Reuters, the island state is treated as a “testing ground” for a Beijing-backed hacker army, with some cyber attacks being detected in Taiwan before appearing in larger countries, such as the US. According to researchers, the enormous scale of the attacks indicated government support for these attacks; according to Tsai The-sheng, director of the Taiwan National Security Bureau, the bureau detected more than three million cyber attacks from China in the space of a single year.

Taiwanese banks and government agencies and banks are among the victims of the continued, persistent attacks. After becoming President of Taiwan in 2016, Tsai Ing-wen has raised cyber security to the level of a national security concern.

Now, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) – a liberal party which promotes a strong Taiwanese identity distinct from Mainland China – has increased spending on online cyber defences, following an attack on the party’s computers and website which successfully stole data.

Recent cyber attacks in Taiwan – as well as growing evidence that Moscow has been attempting to influence elections abroad using the internet – has led to concern that the Chinese government may attempt to influence future democratic processes, including the upcoming 2018 local elections. A swing away from support for the DPP towards the Kuomintang of China – the main opposition party, which is less hostile towards Beijing than the DPP – could be seen as a small victory for the government of China.

“We are really aware that this happen to us as well,” said Yang Chia-liang, a spokesperson for the DPP, told the Financial Times. “We are worried the Chinese government will try to target Taiwan and influence our elections.”

Yang said that the DPP was bringing in support from external companies to help bolster the party’s cyber defences against future attacks.

Earlier this week, President Tsai spoke at an information security event about the need for the state to strengthen its cyber defences, particularly against criminals targeting Taiwanese banks and other financial services. She has outlined new cyber-security goals for Taiwan, including creating a digital homeland security team and promoting research and development in cyber security.

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