Stories from the Pacific – the human side of cyber incidents

The GFCE Pacific Hub organized a session at the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) 2023 titled “Stories from the Pacific – the human side of cyber incidents.”

This session explored the impact of some cyber incidents, and discussed the challenges, risks and lessons learnt, with a particular focus on the human impact of these incidents. The human perspective is an often overlooked dimension of cyber incidents and thus the session focused on taking a look at on-the-ground, Pacific stories from recent cyber incidents, particularly from Tonga with contributions from the audience on the 2021 incident in Samoa. Drawing from the first-hand experiences of the speakers and seeking the views and perspectives from all those in the room, the session highlighted the human impact elements.

To empower pacific voices and stories at the APrIGF 2023, the GFCE sponsored the participation of Pelenita Milika Atoa, also known as Brenda, who has been a civil servant for the Government of Tonga for the past nineteen years, to participate as a speaker in the session. Brenda shares below her experience at APrIGF.

“Big malo aupito, meaning thank you so much to the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE) for choosing and sponsoring me to be a part of this incredible event. It was an honor for me as a Pacific Islander and coming from a small island country to represent the Kingdom of Tonga as well as the rest of the Pacific Island Countries. I shared a story from the Kingdom of Tonga on the given topic “The human side of cyber incidents”. This was my first-ever APrIGF event and as a speaker, it was a splendid experience, and I appreciated all the support from the relevant stakeholders which made everything possible for me. It was good knowing that we have a session to represent the Pacific and to share from the perspective of the Pacific countries. I see a real need to have more sessions from the Pacific held at future APrIGF events.

The time allocated to hold the Pacific session during an APrIGF event is vital. Notwithstanding, there is a need for all delegates, both the Asia and Pacific delegates, to all attend to observe, understand and get on the same page with what is happening specifically in the Pacific countries. Why? We all know that the Asia context is somewhat different from the Pacific, Asia is larger than the Pacific and far more advanced with a speedy connection, more advanced technology, resources, and capacity whereas the Pacific does not have all of that, but they are more vulnerable to the threats. By saying that, more events led or organized by the Pacific at future APrIGF events is something that needs to be taken into consideration, and it will be relevant and helpful to the Pacific and a good learning to Asia and other involved countries.

Having the opportunity to join the PacIGF session on the 29th of August 2023 was another remarkable experience. The environment was totally different and the spirit in there was active with all the sharing and discussion from the participants based on what they have experienced in their various countries, and it was a good learning knowing the challenges and what are the way forwards to overcome those challenges.

To finish off I would like to share this quote, and it says: “The stronger the ties of fellowship and solidarity amongst men, the greater will be the power of constructiveness and accomplishment in all the planes of human activity.” “So powerful is the light of unity”, Bahá’u’lláh declares, “that it can illuminate the whole earth.”

About Brenda

Pelenita Milika Atoa, also known as Brenda, has been a civil servant for the Government of Tonga for the past nineteen years. Previously, she worked as an Assistant Licensing Inspector for 4 years, then was promoted to Senior Cooperative Assistant for 9 years and assistant secretary for 1 year, all in the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development. Brenda currently works for Tonga’s Computer Emergency Response Team that operates under the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change, Communication and CERT as the Senior Engagement Officer leading our engagement and administration side for five years now.

In 2020, she was on a secondment program to the Interim Pacific Fusion Centre in Canberra, which was intended to last 3 months but due to COVID-19, she was locked down there for 10 months before returning home. Brenda is currently an executive Member of the Tonga Women in ICT – TWICT, a Get Safe Online Ambassador for Tonga as well as a Baha’i Faith Study Circle Cluster Coordinator and an Assistant Auxiliary Board Member for the Western District of Tongatapu.