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DICT 'on top of' probe into hacking of Senate staff emails

A task force on cybersecurity, composed of DICT, NBI, DOJ, and PNP, will meet on October 16 following the reported hacking of the staffs of opposition senators. File

MANILA, Philippines—A task force on cybersecurity will meet on Monday to probe the hacking of emails of opposition senators’ staff, a ranking official from the Department of Information and Communications Technology said.

Assistant Security Allan Cabalong told Philstar.com in a phone interview that the DICT, the Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police will meet on Monday following the incident reported by Sens. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV and Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan.

This comes after the senators, on Thursday, said that  several emails accounts of their staff were hacked, including “official email addresses for releasing media statements of Sen. Pangilinan and the Liberal Party.”

The Senate minority, in a statement, said "the nature of the breach in all instances is the same: Unauthorized users sent emails using the staff and party addresses."

Probe underway

Cabalong said that he was invited to Aquino's home on September to check the computers of his staff last September.

He said that he could not, however, examine the said email as the draft of the phishing email had already been deleted.Phishing is an attempt to obtain sensitive information, often through legitimate looking emails and websites.

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“We can only do forensic investigation,” Cabalong said.

He said that he advised the members of the senators' staff to change their passwords and conduct mass filtering on the Senate Wi-Fi.

Aquino, on Thursday, pointed out that the sent emails can be traced back to Senate IP addresses.

Education and awareness

Cabalong, also executive director of the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center, said that he is pushing for education awareness on cybersecurity measures.

The sentiment was also echoed by Democracy.Net.Ph, a rights advocacy organization. The group led in the drafting of the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom that aims to espouse internet freedom in the Philippines.

The group said that the incident is a “wake-up call for all branches of government to increase cybersecurity awareness and implement cybersecurity measures.”

They also warned: “For these reported incidents to not be given proper attention by the government, and for countermeasures to not be immediately deployed by all government offices and agencies, is for the Philippines to be put at grave cybersecurity risk.”

But Cabalong said that the DICT “will be on top of this,” adding that he received direct orders to “really focus on the matter.”

Destabilization link?

Aquino, in a press conference, said that he believes that the emails are an attempt to get hold of personal information of the recipients.

He also said that the hacking incident may be an attempt to “plant new evidence, so that in the future there is evidence for a conspiracy.”

The newly formed Citizen National Guard said that the opposition, particularly the members of the Liberal Party of the Philippines, is brewing a destabilization move against the government. Among those identified by the group as "enemies of the state" are Yellowtards.

The term "yellowtard" is thrown around by internet users referring to loyal supporters of the Liberal Party, the political party of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III. It is a play between the yellow, the color associated with the moribund party, and retard, which indicates a delay in progress.

It is also a play on "retard", an offensive term used to refer to people with cognitive disabilities.

The label, however, has also been used by Duterte's supporters on any critic of the administration regardless of political allegiances.

"These incidents seem to form part of a pattern to pin the political opposition for imaginary destabilization attempts. These are cause for concern as Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre spearheaded the creation of the Citizen National Guard, which says that dissent is destabilization," the Senate minority said.

The senators have already denied involvement in any destabilization plots.

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