MANILA, Philippines - Philippine science and technology officials have disowned attacks made on Chinese websites, even as they warned that the "skirmishes in cyberspace" may worsen the dispute between Manila and Beijing over the ownership of Scarborough Shoal.
The Department of Science and Technology’s Information and Communications Technology Office (DOST-ICTO), in a press statement, said the attacks on Chinese websites are "neither sanctioned nor condoned by the Philippine government, and must be stopped at the soonest."
"We understand the concern of our local hacker community on this issue. However, exchanges such as this one will not benefit anyone and could possibly lead to bigger problems in the future for the Philippines and China and escalate the already tense situation at Panatag Shoal," DOST-ICTO executive director Louis Casambre said.
The DOST-ICTO said the cyber skirmishes between Filipino and Chinese hackers started with the defacement of the University of the Philippines website by hackers sympathetic to Beijing's claims on Scarborough shoal just off Zambales province.
"This sparked a series of retaliations committed by rival hacker groups promoting the cause of Philippine sovereignty on the disputed area against a number of China-based websites," the agency said.
DOST Secretary Mario Montejo said he is dismayed with the hacker attacks by both sides.
Skirmishes in cyberspace
"These skirmishes in cyberspace are unsanctioned by either government and are largely outbursts of public sentiment by private citizens from either country regarding the current situation. It is our job in government to seek diplomatic solutions to these issues and not let them get out of hand," Montejo said.
The DOST said the attacks on the government websites prompt renewed calls for tighter, more stringent online security standards in the country.
Casambre said that along with the cybercrime bill currently undergoing legislative review at both chambers of Congress, the DOST-ICTO is working closely with the Office of the President in drafting an executive order to establish a top-level body to spearhead government’s efforts on cybercrime and cybersecurity.
"The creation of this body will strengthen the necessary coordination and implementation of uniform security standards in government," he added.
Pinoy hackers divided on China attacks
Hackers groups in the Philippines, meanwhile, are divided on the attacks on Chinese websites.
While 2 groups -- "PrivateX" and "Anonymous #OccupyPhilippines" -- have been leading the way in attacking Chinese government websites in an operation they dubbed "#OpChina Down," the leader of another hackers group said he will not order his members to take part in the cyber attacks.
"I won't give any orders to attack Chinese websites. The members are responsible enough for their own actions. That is all," said "~nitrob" of the Philker Developers Network.
"As a leader of a hacking group (PhilKer), I don't see any reason why I should give an order to attack Chinese websites. For what reason? Is it because they vandalized some of our websites?" said ~nitrob in a Facebook post.
"One of the best ways [of] helping our country is to report security holes/vulnerabilities to their respective application developer," ~nitrob added.
The leader of PhilKer believes that Chinese hackers deface Philippine websites because they may be state-sanctioned, "which means the government is providing them with substantial funds for their operations."
Other reasons could be that Chinese hackers "love their country" or they deface website "for bragging rights," ~nitrob said.
He added that Filipino hackers retaliate because they either love their country, they want to go with the latest trend, or also to claim bragging rights.