Kazakhstan builds 'cyber shield' to counter recruiting and propaganda

By Alexander Bogatik

Young residents of Taraz view an extremist video on-line February 16. [Alexander Bogatik]

Young residents of Taraz view an extremist video on-line February 16. [Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- Kazakhstan is developing a cyber-security planning document, or "kontseptsiya", to combat extremist recruiting and propaganda online, Kazakhstani Defence and Aerospace Industry Ministry officials told Caravanserai.

The ministry is responsible for preparing the document, the press office said February 13.

The effort comes as hundreds of radicalised Kazakhstanis fight alongside militants in Syria and Iraq.

"According to law enforcement agencies, the number of cyber-crimes in Kazakhstan increases every year," member of parliament Asylbek Smagulov said in an article published in Kazakhstanskaya Pravda February 6, though he cited no numbers.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev earlier warned about cyber-threats.

"I am assigning the government and National Security Committee [KNB] to take steps to create a 'Cyber-Shield Kazakhstan' system," Nazarbayev said in his annual message to the people of Kazakhstan, published January 31.

What is cyber-crime?

International terrorist groups use the internet and social networking sites to spread their message and attract the disaffected, experts warn.

Offences committed by extremists and other criminals include hacking and data theft, as well as "the spread ... of extremist propaganda", Ivan Korneyev, a computer programmer from Taraz, told Caravanserai.

"Online recruitment is a cyber-crime too," he said.

International law enforcement co-operation is pivotal in fighting cyber-crime because the internet has no borders, he said. "Cyber-criminals [can be] based in one country while their victims reside in other countries," Korneyev said.

A cyber-shield in progress

The coming cyber-shield is part of the government's 2017-2020 counter-terrorism programme.

Defence and Aerospace Industry Minister Beibut Atamkulov described the cyber-shield as "an entire complex of organisational, legal and technical measures and a network of hardware and software systems, IT (information technology) and cyber-security projects undertaken by state agencies".

Officials have prepared the legislative groundwork for developing and approving their long-term cyber-security planning document, Atamkulov said according to a account of a February 7 cabinet meeting.

Kazakhstan already "has a centralised communication network management system called Electronic Border", he said at the cabinet meeting. "We have created a security certificate that enables us to stop internet users in Kazakhstan from accessing illegal encrypted information."

Educating internet users

Nazarbayev's message to the Kazakhstani people "expressed the need to increase citizens' IT literacy, communicate information about threats and risks to all parts of society, and teach basic skills to prevent cyber threats and safely use informational systems", said Evgeny Pitolin, director general of the Central Asia division of Kaspersky Lab, a cyber-crime fighting company.

The cyber-shield is going to include "protecting governmental infrastructure, investigating computer incidents, conducting educational initiatives and provinding IT security services", he wrote in a February 1 Ekspress-K report.

"We opened a training centre at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University and signed a partnership agreement with the Kazakhstan Engineering National Co. (a subsidiary of the Defence Ministry)," Pitolin said. "Our goals include providing the entire country with skills and knowledge to secure themselves from cyber threats."

The government "must identify local problems and vulnerabilities as well as search for solutions tailored to Kazakhstani realities", he said.

Kazakhstan is seeing a rapid increase in cyber-attacks against the government, he said, without providing specific details.

In response, the government blocked or removed more than 110,000 pro-extremist websites and other internet resources last year, according to the Information and Communications Ministry.

Strengthening cyber security

Kazakhstani civil and criminal laws do not presently cover the full array of cyber-crimes, according to Asylbek Smagulov, a member of parliament.

In devising a cyber-shield, it is "critical to improve [Kazakhstani] laws on national security and international co-operation on information security", Smagulov wrote in a Kazakhstanskya Pravda article published February 6.

"Crimes like cyber-terrorism are developing dangerous tendencies," he said. "Websites specially created by terrorists use ultra-modern methods to brainwash people."

Citizens like Rinat Jusupov consider blocking online extremist materials the most important part of fighting terrorism.

"I have two sons who are 14 and 17," the Taraz businessman told Caravanserai.

"It's almost impossible to find out what they're doing on their cell phones and laptops. I am am very grateful to the people who fight [extremist propaganda material online] and protect Kazakhstani youth," he said.

"The cyber-shield must stop the promotion of religious terrorism and the cult of violence," Gulnaz Razdykova, director of the Centre for the Analysis and Development of Inter-Faith Relations in Pavlodar Province, told Caravanserai.

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