Microfinanciers' conference to focus on cyber vulnerability

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, December 09, 2018

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Among the issues to be discussed when members of the Jamaica Micro Finance Association (JaMFA) meet at Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston on Wednesday, is the urgent need to complete the parliamentary process for the Data Protection Bill.

Executive director of the nine-year-old body which represents most of Jamaica's leading micro financing institutions (MFIs), Raymond Gabbidon, says that the theme for this year's national conference, 'The Digital Reality: Redefining The Way We Do Microfinancing', was strategically chosen to identify the umbilical link between microfinancing and the digital reality.

“This is a $28-billion industry, which relies heavily on the digital reality to succeed, and we need to ensure that we are prepared to deal with the security challenges that will face us as the industry develops,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

According to Gabbidon, just recently one of the association's members became the victim of a hacking, in which the hackers took control of the company's data and demanded a ransom to release it.

“I cannot reveal the name of the company publicly, but its system was closed down by the hackers who demanded a huge ransom to reopen the data. So, we are not safe from these criminal activities, and we want to see more urgency in terms of approving the provisions of the Data Protection Bill to ensure that we do not become helpless victims of hackers,” he said.

“Online applications are essential for us, but it has to be done in a way that protects both the customer and the financial institutions. We need to be able to approve loans much faster than the commercial banks if we are to maintain the competitive edge that we have among the micro, small and medium-sized business which are our main market. But we have to ensure that we do so in a very secure environment,” the JaMFA executive said.

Another issue which he expects to be of primary concern to the members is the question of the approval of the long delayed Microcredit Act, which aims to register and licence microfinancing institutions that provide financing to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), as well as workers and self-employed people.

JaMFA, through former president Hurshell Cyrus, had made numerous calls across political administrations to have the Bill approved and implemented, so as to increase the credibility of the MFIs, and enable greater participation in government contracts, while facilitating consumer protection.

Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke, earlier this year assured the sector that the Bill would be tabled in Parliament by next year, and Gabbidon says that the industry is hoping that this is the final assurance of its promulgation from governments.

Dr Clarke said that the ministry has been working closely with the Attorney General's Chambers, the Bank of Jamaica, and Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel to develop the legislation. He said he receives weekly updates on the progress of work on the legislation, and noted that several drafts have been developed because “we have to make sure that when it is tabled, all of the kinks are ironed out and the companion pieces of legislation that the amendments affect… are also adjusted”.

Gabbidon said that Wednesday's conference will be very timely for the MFIs, as among the presenters will be Assistant Superintendent of Police Warren Williams, who heads the Communication Forensics and Cybercrime Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Another important presenter on the digital issues will be the head of Jamaica-Cyber Incident Response Team, Dr Moniphia Hewling.

Hewling's team, which falls under the Ministry of Science and Technology, is aimed at safeguarding the Government's information technology (IT) systems against cyber threats. It is responsible for coordinating cyber-related incident responses, foster timely recovery from incidents, provide rapid distribution of threat advisories and alerts within the Government; and continuous monitoring of threats to the Government's IT resources.

Keynote speakers at the conference will be Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw and Opposition spokesman on industry, investment and competitiveness Peter Bunting. It will run from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.

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