For those tasked with building Internet infrastructure in the Pacific islands, accessibility and affordability are usually the main factors they have to consider. But for Solomon Islands’ Joseph Haga, the eye-opening insight he got from the recent Pacific Internet Governance Forum was that security is just as important a factor, if not more so.
Haga, a Core (IP) Network Support Engineer for Solomon Telekom, says the discussion on “Safe and Secure Internet” at the event in Port Vila, Vanuatu, last month, “really changed my thinking and my view”.
“In Pacific Island countries, we focus more on Internet accessibility and affordability, and there is little talk and less resources spent on Internet security,” says Haga, 28, who was one of five APNIC Fellows at Pacific IGF. “And the same is true for almost all the small Pacific Islands countries.”
Haga felt that he needed to attend Pacific IGF after learning of the importance of Internet governance during a course run by the Internet Society.
“Among the Pacific Island countries, the Solomons are yet to catch up with the others in terms of connection to the undersea fibre optic cable and other related technologies,” he says.
“Attending the Pacific IGF, I believed, would give me greater insight into the development challenges and the governance of the Internet, not just in the Pacific islands region but also in my home country.”
It also gave him the chance to meet other Pacific IGF Fellows, and to informally discuss various challenges faced in their respective economies in terms of Internet development and cybersecurity.
“The Pacific IGF really made me rethink my approach and view of the Internet, and it is now time that we in the small Pacific Islands countries conduct Internet user awareness on a safe and secure Internet, and also put more resources into capacity building in the area of cybersecurity.”
Ultimately, he says, the privacy of users when they go online “really starts with them”.
“It’s about what information they’re willing to put online and who else is accessing it, and that’s the message I will carry when I roll out networks in the remote islands of Solomon Islands.”
Haga lives in the Solomons’ capital of Honiara. However, his work involves much travelling to the outer islands, with the farthest travel six days away by boat and then one hour 40 minutes by Dash 8 aircraft.
“Travelling by boat or by air to the islands east and west of the Solomon Islands has been a part of me since I was a kid,” he says, “as my dad comes from the island of Makira in the east and my mum comes from Rarumana in the western islands of Solomon Islands.
“I love travelling, and seeing people in the outer provinces connected to the Internet has made my current job an enjoyable one and a perfect fit for me,” he says.
After being awarded a government scholarship, Haga qualified with a BSc in Computer Science and Information Systems from the University of the South Pacific, where he concentrated on his main interest of networking. He plans to take on further studies in telecommunication, with a Masters in Engineering (Telecommunication/Networking) his next step towards becoming a certified network security engineer.
He also plans to do more volunteer work on IGF issues.
“Before the undersea fibre optic cable lands in Solomon Islands, it is up to IGF fellowship alumni like me to advocate on the challenges the Internet poses and the development opportunity it has to offer,” he says. “I’m thankful that with my experience at the recent Pacific IGF, I’m now ready to share the message of Internet governance and safety.”
Security, multi-stakeholder model the main messages for Fellows
Mirroring Haga’s view on cyber security was another Fellow at the PacIGF, Robertson Asari of Papua New Guinea (PNG).
“In PNG, ‘fake news’ on social media is a major challenge, and this has prompted the passing of the Cybercrime Law in 2016,” says Asari, a Network Surveillance Engineer with the Department of Information and Communication’s IGIS*Net unit.
Asari feels that is important for the Pacific Islands area to have regional cooperation between CERTs in each economy, something he hopes to work on with the PNG team working on the country’s recently launched Cyber Security Strategy.
Tenanoia Simona, an IT Manager at Tuvalu Telecommunication Corporation, also stressed the importance of security in developing countries: “More focus should be given to educating our community and most importantly our children about how the Internet works, and there should be cybersecurity legislation put in place to protect our children from the dark side of the Internet.”
Another Fellow, Sereana Narayan, who is Communications Assistant for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Oceania Regional Office in Fiji, said the experience gained from attending the Pacific IGF “has really broadened my knowledge of the Internet governance process and the work carried out at the regional level”.
“This knowledge will allow for deepened and more meaningful engagement in Internet governance at the regional level and eventually at the international level,” she says.
Asari agrees on the importance of the governance issue, and especially on the mutistakeholder approach, something they managed to learn more about at the PacIGF.
“The major highlight was the unity of the Pacific region in working together to bring the Internet as a tool into the region to complement development and change. It was the appreciation that we are all struggling together as a region to reach that level by demand,” Asari says.
“The Pacific Region and its people are bounded by tradition and culture — our way of thinking and the way of life is so different to the Western world. However, with globalization, we have to change our way of thinking and working. We now have the challenge of understanding the issues, and work strategically to reach the level of successful nations.
“It is a good change, and we have to adopt technology, especially the Internet, but we have to direct and influence it so that it can change our communities for the better.”
The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.
“I love travelling, and seeing people in the outer provinces connected to the Internet has made my current job an enjoyable one and a perfect fit for me.”
What a great comment from Joseph Haga.
Outer islands and outer provinces are always the last on the list, and yet have the most to lose from insecurity, online.
A thousand dollar loss online might only be embarrassing for an urban business – but fatal for a rural operation.
An app that blocks out risky stuff for each island state and provides health checks via email might help zero in on hackers and identity thieves.