Cyberattacks occur in T&T at a rate of approximately 168 every minute, which underscores the critical need for authorities to bolster their response, especially with the increased public access to AI technology.
This alarming statistic came from executive chairman of Amalgamated Security Services Limited Dr Michael Aboud who said government infrastructure, healthcare, and large conglomerates are bearing the brunt of these attacks.
“We are experiencing ransomware within Trinidad and Tobago. While you may not necessarily hear about it in the public domain and people, in an effort to protect their brand and so on, may not necessarily be talking about it but it has happened and it continues to happen,” he said.
Aboud said his figures came from the company’s own records in collaboration with that of other partners.
One of the country’s largest conglomerates fell victim to a ransomware attack in what was described as the largest Caribbean data breach dump to date. In October, the Hive Ransomware group dumped 87,550 folders and 704,047 corporate files allegedly belonging to Massy Stores.
Aboud said ransomware attacks are likely to be tied to the transnational crimes currently plaguing the region.
“The fundamental technology that allows, for example, ransomware to occur would be based on the codes and stuff. We don’t necessarily have that expertise, so we are aligning with some international criminal syndicate to facilitate this avenue,” he said.
Chief business development officer at US-based Omnisystems Inc, Gary Walker, believes theft of personal information through cyber attacks is one of the biggest threats to cybersecurity in the region and can originate from any country.
“(This can be) quite disruptive. Particularly because the threat is coming from many different places, from many different actors, not just professional actors but also actors who are working with criminality at the core of what they want to do,” he said.
Though not ransomware, the long chain of international links in cyber attacks was witnessed almost a month ago when an emailed bomb threat forced the evacuation of schools nationwide. The server used in that threat was based in Germany and the ‘resolve host’ of the email was situated in Cyprus, police said. Two Virtual Private Networks (VPN), located in Switzerland and Panama were used to further mask the identity of the origin of the email.
Aboud, who described T&T’s preparedness against cyber attacks as “very very low”, said the situation warrants closer attention.
“It’s going to have a significant impact on our commercial businesses and the risks they are facing,” he said.
AE Tactical Limited managing director Luke Hadeed agreed that cyber threats are a growing concern.
“We utilise mobile phones, computer technology, with the advent of personal data and information and us relying more (on it)—cyber is a massive, massive concern for corporate Trinidad and businesses throughout and likewise governments,” he said.
Adding to the already complex digital threat landscape, Aboud said, is the emergence of AI technology.
“AI is a whole new ball game that is going to change significantly what is going to take place,” he said.
The technology has moved beyond simply generating text and can be used to create, music, videos, and pictures among other things.
“We cannot be sleeping on it because it is here and it will only get worse,” he said.
Walker explained that AI can be particularly helpful to criminals because of its ability to sift through a large chunk of information in a matter of seconds, facilitating a faster hit and getaway while increasing the difficulty to trace. However, while the technology poses a threat, it could also be harnessed for law enforcement.
“AI can make us smarter, can get us more data quicker. It also gives us the ability to be very repeatable. We can repeat things quicker and we can share data quicker,” he said.
“Processing data has been the biggest challenge of cops for many many years. I’ve worked cases where I’ve had to manually go through files for months just to find one piece of evidence I can use to identify an actual target. I’ve taken that entire situation and replicated it with today’s technology and the same exercise takes 30 to 40 seconds.”
Hadeed said AI’s threat could also be less doom and gloom, focusing on copyright infringements through the various art functions it can perform.
Hadeed believes local authorities have the tools to combat the threat but admits there is a gap that “always needs to be closed.”