Senior telecommunications and cyber policy makers from six countries across the Pacific attended a two-day conference in Nadi to discuss best practices in establishing long-term national cyber strategies and implementing cybersecurity best practices. The conference, held August 19-20 at the Sheraton Fiji Resort, was sponsored under the United States’ Digital Connectivity and Cyber Partnership (Digital Partnership), which promotes global access to an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet.
Organized and funded by the U.S. State Department, the conference brought together experts from the Software Engineering Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, MITRE, a not-for-profit corporation, and officials from several U.S. government agencies. Speakers from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, multilateral development banks, and from the Pacific Islands added to the robust discussions.
Attendees included representatives from Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Tonga. All shared their achievements – and the unique challenges – in bringing secure and resilient connectivity to their countries. Officials from Tonga, for instance, provided a detailed look at how the country coped with a sudden loss of connectivity in January after a ship cut its sole submarine cable.
Helene Tuling, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission of U.S. Embassy Suva, said: “Through the Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership, the U.S. government promotes access to an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet in developing countries. This conference is another opportunity for Pacific island nations to take advantage of the digital economy and reduce the digital divide.”
While telecommunications connectivity has improved significantly in recent years, access to affordable, resilient broadband connectivity remains varied among Pacific island countries. Internet connectivity has the capability to transform lives of Pacific Islanders, particularly the underserved populations by providing access to education, cultural exchanges, and economic opportunities.
Johanna Vazzana, a lead for MITRE’s International Cyber Capacity Building work, said: “The opportunities afforded by connected technology to developing communities far outweigh the security risks when those risks are managed, collectively, by a group of invested stakeholders. And, any good cybersecurity engineer or policymaker will tell you it is far easier and less expensive to build in cybersecurity considerations in policy or in technology from the ground up.”
Conference session topics included: Formulating and implementing national cyber strategies; Overcoming technical and legal barriers to connectivity challenges; Promises and potential perils of 5G technology; Best practices in regulating and auctioning radio spectrums; Managing risks; Cybersecurity and combatting cybercrime; and Working with development partners, such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.
Maxwell Scott, Director for ASEAN and Pacific ICT Policy, U.S. Department of State, said: “The results of workshop activities provided a solid foundation for regional strategic cyber planning. Secure information and communication technologies have the potential to strengthen business confidence and enhance good governance throughout the Pacific islands enabling new prospects for economic growth and development.”
The Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership was launched with a US$25 million initial investment by the United States. This initiative aims to promote global access to an open, interoperable, and secure Internet worldwide, but with a particular focus on the Indo-Pacific region. Among its goals:
- Build Connections: Encourage greater private sector investment in communication infrastructure through private-public partnerships supported by the full suite of U.S. government development finance tools.
- Enable Innovation: Help partner countries adopt policy and regulatory positions that encourage open, interoperable, reliable, and secure digital infrastructure through providing technical assistance, training, bilateral dialogues, and conferences.
- Grow Global Markets: Support trade of information communications technology (ICT) products and services and ICT-enabled trade.
- Enhance Cybersecurity: Build the capacity of international partners to develop national cyber strategies, strengthen national incident management capabilities, and modernize laws in line with international best practices to address shared cybersecurity threats.
Over the past year, the United States has also promoted connectivity and cybersecurity in the Pacific region through trade events, seminars, education programs in the United States, and specialized trainings by officials from the FBI and United States Secret Service.