“Cyber Power through Innovation” was the main topic for representatives of the military, government, academia, and business community of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States at the first Partner Nation Cyber Conference. The event took place at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, Florida, January 17th–18th. Representatives shared ideas and explored technologies to counter cyberthreats in the Western Hemisphere.
“Cyberdefense is a very complex issue and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. This issue must be thought out from different perspectives to learn precisely which solutions need to be applied to a specific country,” said U.S. Air Force Colonel Miguel Colón, chief of Cyber Operations for SOUTHCOM. “Our commitment is to work side by side with partner nations as we face the issue of cybersecurity.”
The participation of different agencies and industry representatives with ties to the sector brought different perspectives on how to work together. “We’re taking positive steps in the areas of cybersecurity and cyberdefense,” Col. Colón said. “We’re maturing in this field to provide the security required to protect everything that has to be protected at the national level.”
During the two-day conference, more than 50 representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, the United States, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines held a forum focused on technological innovations to counter the ongoing and evolving challenges of cybersecurity. Cyber experts led the discussion through a series of presentations, some of which highlighted emerging technologies and cooperation with academic institutions and the corporate sector.
“Interest in cyberdefense has grown a lot in this region. Cybersecurity is no longer seen as isolated in Latin American countries, but is now a main topic of our nations’ discussions on security policies,” said Guatemalan Army Colonel Miguel Ángel Mollinedo Enríquez, deputy director of Information Technology and Command Communications Systems for the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense. “For Guatemala and the rest of the countries in the region, it’s important to know about cybersecurity issues, as these are the new threats—emerging threats.”
According to Col. Mollinedo, Guatemala seeks to reinforce the issue in the Central American region. “We want to study the issue of cybersecurity at the regional level in Central America using the Central American Armed Forces Conference as a mechanism,” he said. “We’re analyzing how we can integrate the armies of the Central American region to jointly address this issue.”
“If we don’t come together as a group to fight cybercrime, which is the crime of the future, we won’t get anywhere,” said Commissioner Joaquín Vergara Acosta, director of Telematics for the Panamanian National Police. “We’re stronger if we work as a team […] These conferences are very important to be able to work as a team.”
Commissioner Vergara added that Panama has laws to fight some cybercrimes, such as child pornography and credit cards skimming. A more general law is now being considered to fight those crimes and other computer and cybercrimes more forcefully.
Military forces against cyberthreats
“There’s an urgent need to prepare ourselves in the military forces, that we prepare a lot of people in this area, so that we can counter what’s coming in the future,” said Dominican Republic Army Major Alexandre Melo Terrero, director-general of technology for the Ministry of Defense. “Criminals move swiftly in the area of cybercrime, and we have a slow response. So, the challenge is to speed up our response through training centers, personnel, and technology.”
The Dominican Republic has cyberdefense and incident reporting centers similar to those of the Armed Forces and the National Police—another is now in the process for the Ministry of Defense. “If we all come together and share information about cyberattacks, we can have a more positive impact to counter it,” Maj. Melo said.
Cybersecurity is a challenge for Colombia. “Countries in the region show a lot of interest in this issue, as we tackle it every day and it crosses over all sectors, not just the military field,” said Colombian Army Major Milena Elizabeth Realpe Díaz, chief of operations for Joint Cyber Command. “We work on it more, because it’s all related to the threats of cyber terrorism and cyberwarfare.”
In addition to keeping up on cybersecurity issues, conference participants shared experiences with their counterparts in the region. “It’s important to share this kind of information, to be more proactive and anticipate threats before they occur,” Maj. Realpe said. “Cybersecurity is a strong component moving forward because it’s seen as a strategic pillar for our military forces, with a lot of effort being devoted to it, including budgeting, personnel, and training.”
“We can’t do anything by ourselves,” said Peruvian Air Force (FAP, in Spanish) Colonel Daniel Iván Taipe Domínguez, head of the Department of Cyberdefense Operations for the Peruvian Armed Forces Joint Command. “We need to have the experience that Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and other countries have. They have a technological advantage over us in this regard, and can help us grow and move toward becoming a cyber-secure community.”
Col. Taipe stressed that the Armed Forces are working to counter cyberthreats. “Commands dedicated to cyberdefense and cybersecurity are being set up, so that cyberattacks can be prevented. FAP spearheads this issue.”
International cooperation is key to security in cyberspace. “I see a future in which our ties to the region will be very positive. We will be more interlinked,” Col. Colón said. “It's going to be positive, because when we can maintain a continuous flow of information—in seconds, instead of minutes, hours, or days—it’ll a good thing for the region.”
Maj. Melo agreed. “The future of cybersecurity is promising, especially if we all come together and integrate as well as we did at this conference. We can help each other more between countries and share our experiences.”