Southeast Asian Cyber Attacks Still Way Off

Southeast Asian extremist groups have turned to the Internet to recruit people and raise funds but they have not yet been able to mount cyber attacks, a security expert said on Monday.

Rohan Gunaratna, head of the political violence and terrorism center at Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, said regional militant network Jemaah Islamiah (JI) used the Internet extensively to spread its propaganda.

"It will take a very long time for Southeast Asian groups to develop the capability to attack the Internet," he said. "Instead of attacking the Internet, they are using the Internet."

He was in Malaysia to address Southeast Asian security officials on U.S.-backed training on counter-terrorism, including cyber-terrorism and suicide bombing.

A Malaysian counter-terrorism official told the meeting that the threat from cyber attacks in the region was real but offered no information of any specific threat.

"The threat is real. It's not the question of how or what, but it is only of when," said Yean Yoke Heng, deputy head of the Malaysian-based South East Asia Regional Center for Counter Terrorism.

"We need a better coordination ... to be better prepared to face any cyber attacks by hackers, by terrorist groups," he said.

Malaysia announced recently that it would set up a center that provides an emergency response to cyber attacks on the economy or trading system of any country.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said companies such as Symantec Corporation of the United States, Japan's Trend Micro and Russia's Kapersky Lab have agreed to be key partners.

Gunaratna, who has written books on al Qaeda and JI, played down the possibility of such attacks by regional militant groups.

"There are no groups in Southeast Asia that are capable of attacking the Internet at this point of time," he told reporters.

"But there are a number of terrorist groups that are using the Internet very effectively to distribute propaganda, to recruit, to raise funds and to coordinate terrorist attacks," he said.

They include JI, al Qaeda's franchise in Southeast Asia, he said.

Noordin Mohammad Top, a Malaysian suspected of masterminding bombings on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali last year, is currently leading JI's operations.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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