According to the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia, there were about seven million Facebook users in Cambodia by 2018. On one hand, the platform allows business opportunities to flourish, especially with regard to e-commerce. On the other hand, the platform also poses an increased risk for cybercrimes, such as identity theft. In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times, Ou Phannarith, director of the ICT Security Department at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, discusses the issue of Facebook security and the best methods for protection.
KT: How would you describe the current Facebook trend in Cambodia? And what is good about it?
Mr Phannarith: To start with, there are about seven million users in the Kingdom, almost half of Cambodia’s total population. On the bright side, as we can notice, it has not only brought people and family members closer, but has also given start-up businesses or SMEs the opportunity to promote and sell their products online without the requirement of technicians or specialisation in IT. Another good thing is that it provides a huge platform for people to receive and share information and hot news. Meanwhile, government institutions have created Facebook pages to be able to communicate effectively and quickly with citizens so that they can listen to the people’s voices and improve their public services.
KT: These are a lot of good things. However, do you think Facebook is a double-edged sword, especially with such a huge number of users in this country?
Mr Phannarith: There are various risks, depending on the user. First of all, while Facebook is a place where Cambodian users have plenty of information at their fingertips, it is also where they run into fake news. Many users do not have the capability to distinguish fake news from trustworthy, real news. However, in worse scenarios, Facebook could even harm personal or even national security.
KT: How could this social media platform lead to such severe incidents?
Mr Phannarith: From what my team has found, many Cambodian Facebook users are sharing too much of their personal information. For example, many of them “check in” wherever they are. Such information could cause them to become victims of crimes, such as burglary or robbery. Meanwhile, cybercriminals could hack into their account and use this information for their own gain and at the user’s loss. These hackers can use someone’s account, email or identity or create fake ones to borrow money or to blackmail someone, which means it is the person whose identity was stolen who will eventually have to deal with the lenders or the police. They are doing the same thing regarding Facebook pages of companies, and even more. In one example, there are hackers who posed as a Facebook security team personnel to swindle businesses out of thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. They may say that a company’s page violates Facebook policies and ask the company to pay an amount of money or lose their page. Since the company depends so much on their Facebook page and have also spent a lot of money on promoting their page, they are likely to pay the amount the swindlers ask for. The worst scenario, however, is when the hackers hack into a government institution. There are also Facebook pages that posted things that affected national security or public order. All of these have happened before.
KT: Why are Cambodian Facebook users at such a high risk?
Mr Phannarith: Many Cambodian users are still uninformed in terms of Facebook use. One of Facebook’s policies urges users to send or accept a friend request only of those they really know, but most of the people here just add and confirm anyone. They are used to sharing their personal information to the public, which increases their risks. Worse, many, especially the elderly, do not know how to create their own Facebook or email account, so they have to ask mobile software providers, those who work in small stalls on the street, to do it for them, which simply means they allow someone else to know their password. However, some people do not understand the risks until they actually experience them. In the meantime, users could be facilitating the work of hackers by clicking on the links that can bring viruses into their personal computers or mobile phones. They also install unlicensed software, which gives access to hackers to their device.
KT: What should Facebook users do to protect their account?
Mr Phannarith: So, let’s say you set up a Facebook page. Instead of having several admins, the owner, or owners, should appoint only one admin and several editors. Doing this reduces the risk of hackers stealing the account of one of the admins, kicking out the others and steal the page for their own use. Meanwhile, users should never click on any untrustworthy link, which may bring viruses to the device. If you are an employee who unintentionally clicked on a risky link, you must stop everything you are doing on your PC and report it to the specialist in your office immediately. Also, you have to exclusively install licensed software, as well as install an anti-virus software on your PCs and smartphones and keep your operating systems updated. More importantly, do not use a password that is too easy to guess, such as your phone number or your birthday, or use only one password for different accounts.
KT: What has your team been doing to help people use Facebook safely?
Mr Phannarith: Regarding this issues, we have been working so hard to disseminate information to government officials and students on the risk and protection on social media through workshops and so on. We have also met with Facebook representatives to learn about their experience and formulate a framework of cooperation when a problem happens, for example, when a senior official’s Facebook page is stolen.
KT: What should the Cambodian Facebook users do when they find that their account, page or online identity has been stolen?
Mr Phannarith: They have to report to the Anti-Cybercrime Department immediately to have themselves protected in the future. The department’s phone number and address can be found on their Facebook page.