Manila, Dec. 10 — Asia Pacific (APAC) is fertile land for social media, housing more than half of the world’s total users and center of Facebook’s growth.

East Asia logs the most number of virtual network users at over 1 billion as of 2020, with Southeast Asia and South Asia both trailing behind with over 400 million users, according to latest numbers from Statista.

As the region first hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, different forms of lockdowns have been implemented, eased, and re-issued across APAC, putting forward uncharted opportunities of the Internet and social media.

The rapid rise of use and the ever evolving usage of these platforms – from posting pictures, sending messages, to now being an expanding marketplace – makes it essential to examine this new economic frontier.

Global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky explored how information shared online becomes one’s reputation and how this creates an impact in the real world in yesterday’s (Dec 8) “Secure Your Digital Reputation” annual media conference, held online for the first time.

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“One of the most visible effect of this pandemic is how it forced everyone, from individuals to the biggest companies, to shift a lot of their activities online,” says Vitaly Kamluk, Director of Global Research and Analysis (GReAT) for APAC at Kaspersky.

“This dependence, triggered by our need to secure our physical health, also pushed us to increase our social media use, either to connect with our distant loved ones, to give support to our community, to entertain ourselves, or to get hold of products and services that we need.”

Problem is, “Parallel to this trend is the opening of wider doors for cybercriminals to exploit,” he warned.

Aside from the heavier reliance on the internet, the pandemic situation also provided an effective tool for cybercriminals – a “hook” that could make one click a phishing email, share a malicious link, forward an infected image, and more.

In fact, as early as April, many companies moved employees from working in the office to working from their homes – and cybercriminals found new ways to exploit the situation.

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Brute-force attacks on database servers in April 2020 were up 23%. Malicious files planted on websites

also increased by 8%. Network attacks and phishing emails rose as well.

“From detecting and analyzing 350,000 unique malware samples a day pre-COVID, we currently see a total of 428,000 new samples per 24-hour window,” according to Kamluk.

Add the geopolitical events across APAC, the uptick on e-commerce and e-wallet adoption, the continuous remote work set-up and online learning, and the emotional and psychological stresses of the situation, the 2020 threat landscape seems to favor cybercriminals.

“However, hope is in our hands as we are the controller of our online activities. Improved vigilance to protect our digital identities and assets is necessary,” he underscored.

Another concern is managing a brand’s digital reputation.

“The digital reputation of a company is important. Our hyper-connected community made it easier for consumers to voice out their opinions in favor or against our products and services,” Deputy Chief Marketing and Communication Officer for Prasarana Malaysia Berhad, Rafizah Amran maintained.

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Marketers and companies have to focus beyond closing sales and running campaigns, know their end-users, put customers’ experience in the middle, and involve them in the decision-making process, she explained.

“Most importantly, in this era of quick postings and virality, it is important for brands to be very honest and be excellent listeners.”

Prasarana used a range of digital tools, elbow grease and a lot of big data analysis to craft a marcom digital strategy that speaks directly to its customers, Amran noted.

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Manila Bulletin