The Hong Kong government has thrown HK$9 million (£730,000) at a new Cyber Security Centre in a bid to tackle the growing threat to critical infrastructure in the Special Administrative Region of China.
Police commissioner Tsang Wai-hung said at the opening ceremony last Friday that the 27-man centre would be staffed by officers from the small Technology Crime Division and heralded it as the first step towards working more closely with public and private sector organisations.
“Extensive research indicates that the global community continues to suffer from increasingly sophisticated and elusive cyber attacks and if such attacks were successful on critical infrastructure systems the consequences to society would be serious and far reaching,” he said.
“So in recognising this global threat as well as drawing references from overseas experience, the force has decided that the setting up of this centre will - in collaboration with the stakeholders – strengthen our resilience against such threats.”
The centre will be used to support the division’s efforts at spotting and preventing hi-tech crime; analyse and respond to cyber attacks in real-time; and strengthen industry collaboration domestically and internationally.
However, the force was immediately put on the back foot over its plans to monitor data traffic over critical infrastructure systems, despite giving assurances it would only be looking at general data flows and not inspecting specific content.
Lawmaker and founder Charles Mok told the local South China Morning Post that independent experts should be called in to audit the technology and report back on whether web users’ privacy rights will be respected.
"Now, the law enforcers and banks have agreed to monitor certain data. The banks may not find this a problem, but its clients may be worried," he said.
While Hong Kong has had a CERT for over a decade, there have been mutterings that it is under-resourced to deal with the growing online threat to businesses.
Roy Ko, manager of the HKCERT, told The Reg that it will work closely with the Centre to share info on compromised machines and other intelligence.
"Our work will focus on cleaning up compromised machines in Hong Kong as these compromised machines may launch attacks on others. The police focus mainly on attacks targeting HK organisations and to warn or protect these organisations," he explained.
"A mechanism to analyse cyber threat-related traffic is necessary to provide early warning and quick response to attacks, in particular DDoS attacks. HKCERT proposed a similar system a few years back and I am glad that the HK police force finally got the funding and resource to do that. But there is still a lot to be done."
Financial losses due to “technology crime cases” in the SAR have jumped from HK$45m (£3.6m) in 2009 to HK$148.5m (£12m) last year, with online fraud, DDoS-related blackmail and hacktivism among the most common threats. ®