By GERARD BEST
BELIZE CITY, Belize—In response to a growing incidence of cyber-threats, Belize will host its first national cyber security symposium from April 24 to 27.
“We have observed a disturbing rise in threats to critical network infrastructure, corporate networks and personal data. These threats are growing more frequent, more sophisticated and more harmful each year,” said John Avery, Chairman of the Belize Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which is jointly organising the event with the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG).
“There has also been a disturbing proliferation of Internet-related criminal activity perpetrated against citizens. Meanwhile, Belizean laws have struggled to keep pace with malicious technology-enabled actors who pay no regard to borders, jurisdictions or local law enforcement readiness,” he added.
The symposium is being billed as an important first step in changing the national discourse around cyber-issues. The four-day meeting is expected to attract a broad range of local, regional and international delegates, including heads of technology organisations, industry executives, government ministers and public sector officials.
Belize has low Internet penetration, less than 40 per cent according to recent World Bank data. As a consequence, cybersecurity issues simply are not top of mind in much of Belizean society. Avery said that the symposium is deliberately aimed at gathering diverse voices and viewpoints, so that a wide range of sectors could lend their strength to the country’s cyber security action plan.
“Our larger objective is the development of a set of actionable priorities for strengthening our cyber defenses, safeguarding Internet users and creating an environment with digital-enabled innovation can thrive,” he explained.
Bevil Wooding, Executive Director of CaribNOG and an Internet Strategist with US-based Packet Clearing House, said that the growing concern over increased incidence of cybersecurity threats was not unique to Belize but also affecting the wider region.
“Attacks on corporate networks, financial institutions, government agencies and personal devices have increased exponentially in Belize and the wider Caribbean. There has also been a disturbing proliferation of criminal activity perpetrated against members of society. Our laws and policies have struggled to keep pace with malicious, tech-savvy actors who pay no regard to borders, jurisdictions or local law-enforcement readiness,” Wooding said.
Unlike almost every other Central and South American country, but like most Caribbean nations, Belize has “neither a cyber-defense policy nor a national CSIRT; consequently, cyberattacks are mainly handled by the IT Unit of the Belize Police Department,” a 2016 report on Latin American and Caribbean cybersecurity by the Organisation of American States and Inter-American Development Bank observes.
“Guarding our digital gates is a collective responsibility. This is why it is so important to have a truly national forum where the threats can be explained to the widest possible cross-section of society, together with practical steps that can be taken to strengthen laws, safeguard networks and protect businesses, citizens and especially our children online. These groups will be collaborating to develop a comprehensive, common approach to securing Belize’s digital future,” he added.
The forum aims to bring together business leaders, network operators, law enforcement agents, and members of the judiciary, legal fraternity, academia and civil society.
The Belize Public Utilities Commission and CaribNOG are coordinating the event on behalf of the Government of Belize, working closely with several ministries and State bodies including the Central IT Office, the National Security Council and the Office of the Chief Justice. The high-profile event is also being supported by international partners, including Packet Clearing House and the Internet Society, and regional partners such as the Caribbean Telecommunications Union.