Digital Payment Trend in ASEAN and Australia – The  Potential Risks of Safety and Security

This op-ed is part of AASYP’s Digital Dialogues 2022, which is a programme that aims to provide a platform and forum for future leaders from across the region to contribute to the policymaking and diplomacy sphere by engaging in issues relating to innovation and investment, digital economy, and regional mobility.

With the trend of digitalization and the unexpected widespread of the COVID-19  pandemic, the selling and purchasing behaviour of customers in the world, including developing and developed areas (ASEAN and Australia), has changed drastically. In terms of ASEAN, e-Commerce and digital economic activities has boosted quickly in recent years, as it provides enormous possible benefits for this region. For instance, according to  E-Conomy SEA (Google and Temasek, 2018), the digital economy has reached USD 72  billion in gross merchandise value (GMV) in 2018 across online travel, e-Commerce,  online media, and ride-hailing. Not only did it increase at 37% from the previous years, but it had also promoted beyond the 32 per cent of compounded annual growth rate (CAGR)  recorded between 2015 and 2018. These figures have shown possibilities and opportunities of ASEAN’s internet economy as well as projections that the internet economy may blossom in the post-COVID-19 pandemic, with the estimated sales of USD 240 billion by the end of 2025. 

Regarding Australia, despite the slower growth rate compared to ASEAN, the digital economy is still considered as a key factor for its economic future’s security and recovery, especially after the COVID-19 epidemic. Moreover, with the purpose of bettering  Australia’s digital economy, there have been targeted investments for the Australian Digital  Economy Strategy that will underpin improvements in jobs, productivity, promoting  SME’s digitalization, thus making this country’s economy more resilient. Particularly,  AUD 347 million were offered to funding to bolster the Australian Government’s digital economy investment in 2021, AUD 1.1 billion to support the sustainable development of  Australia’s leading digital economy (Senator the Hon Jane Hume, Minister for  Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy, 2022). 

Despite the significant potentials for digital economy’s development in both regions, some problems related to the security of digital payments still arise, which can  possibly cause severe financial losses for those nations. For Southeast Asian countries, the significant progress in digital financial services with rapid increase in the penetration rate  of e-Commerce users has created numerous cyber threats that can immensely harm not  only to individual users, but also to government agencies, businesses and non-profits sectors. According to a study called “Mapping a secure path for the future of digital payments in APAC” (Kaspersky, 2022), about 97 per cent of respondents in Southeast Asia were cautious of at least one type of threat against e-payment platforms, while almost 72 per cent have personally encountered at least one type of threat including social engineering  scams via texts or calls, fake websites, fake deals and phishing scams.

Consequently, the average financial loss of a cyber-incident involving digital payments in ASEAN is between USD 100 to USD 5,000 per user, along with the negative effects from a psychological perspective. In specific, after encountering a cyber-incident,  people living in Southeast Asia confirmed to become more vigilant and anxious about recovering their lost money. On the other hand, companies, especially financial institutions and digital payment providers, may be seriously impacted by risks of safety and security associated with digital economy due to the negative tremendous decrease in brand image and consumers’ trust (Kaspersky, 2022).  

For Australia, this nation also faced pressing issued in terms of security and cyber threats, as the top three most common risks faced by Australian organizations were automated threats, remote code execution (RCE) and remote file inclusion (RFI). Attacks related to these incidents grew at 81 percent between July 2021 and June 2022, with automated threats doubling in frequency (Aaron Tan, 2022). According to Reinhart  Hansen, director of technology at Imperva’s CTO office (2022), cyber criminals usually target at the personal data of Australians for financial gain to sell, to hold to ransom, or to commit financial fraud and scams. Additionally, during the pandemic, various financial institutions inadvertently created more opportunities for these bad actors by rushing their online implementations and transformation projects, taking shortcuts that left them vulnerable to exploitation. 

As a result, with the aim of resolving the pressing problems for both sellers and  customers in ASEAN and Australia, several recommendations are proposed to avoid the  safety and security threat from the digital economy as follow: 

Firstly, for individual users in these countries, they should beware of fake communications when it comes to handing over sensitive and confidential personal information, especially in terms of financial information and payment details. 

Secondly, for companies and organizations, different actions regarding privacy protection and fraud identification need to be considered so as to preserve consumers’  benefits. Advanced technology such as AI, blockchain and cloud computing also ought to be applied, thus improving the digital services and data storage. 

Lastly, for different departments in the Government in each nation, an advanced security support system should be created, as well as regulations regarding encrypted payment information should be delivered. Moreover, conferences and workshops between  ASEAN and Australia can be organized, so that Southeast Asian countries and Australia may learn from each other on how to prevent safety risks in the context of digitalization and economic integration.

This article was written by Dinh Trinh Ha Thao, edited by the Diplomacy Team, and reviewed by the AASYP Publications Team.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer and in no way represent nor reflect the position of AASYP and members of the AASYP Publications Team. The AASYP Horizons Blog provides a platform for the free expression of opinions and intellectual discourse.

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