Cuba: The Next Information Security Frontier

Cuba’s rapprochement with the United States in recent months has sent shockwaves of enthusiasm throughout markets and the diplomatic community alike. Normalization of relations presents a unique opportunity to American investors looking to explore the island nation’s unrealized market potential. But it also opens the door to considerable information security threats, such as identity fraud, cyber attacks, and corporate espionage.

Due to poor infrastructure and tight government controls, Internet access in Cuba currently ranks among the most restricted and expensive in the world. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), approximately 25 percent of Cubans have access to the country’s highly filtered intranet, while only 5 percent are able to access to the global Internet through special government permission or black market sales of such licenses. Even for those who could benefit from access to the country’s intranet, few are able to afford it: only recently did the hourly price drop from one-fourth of the average monthly wage to one-tenth.

However, Cuba’s days as an Internet backwater appear to be coming to an end. When Havana and Washington announced their intention to restore diplomatic ties in December 2014, telecommunications technology and services were among the first exemptions to be made to the historic embargo. The country is now aiming to expand web penetration to 50 percent of all households by 2020, and has begun opening dozens of Wi-Fi access points in public spaces across the country. A rapid expansion of Internet connectivity is a boon for Cuba’s economic and social development, but it also presents a number of new information security challenges for the island nation.

The first of these challenges is the inevitable onset of identity fraud. As American credit card companies begin operating in Cuba, criminals will begin targeting the massive influx of new transactions in hopes of obtaining credit card information for fraudulent purposes.

As foreign investors begin pouring into Cuba, the incentive to profit from the influx of capital will rise for more sophisticated cybercriminals as well. Targeted ransomware attacks on foreign companies will likely become more commonplace as the country’s telecommunications infrastructure grows increasingly connected to rest of the world. Meanwhile, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks perpetrated by hackers with political, financial, or personal motivations are also likely to increase in frequency and impact.

As competition builds between foreign investors clamoring for lucrative government contracts, increased corporate espionage will also jeopardize the state of information security in Cuba. Companies can expect that competitors and state actors will take advantage of the nascent telecommunications infrastructure and inconsistent security practices by using spear phishing attacks to gain access to sensitive proprietary information. Technical surveillance, such as listening devices and hidden video equipment, is also likely to take on a more prominent role as a method for collecting competitive intelligence, trade secrets, and valuable intellectual property.

The anticipated Cuban renaissance presents lucrative opportunities for investors seeking a share of a largely untapped consumer base of 11 million people. But without proper information security safeguards in place, foreign investors and Cuban entrepreneurs risk multiplying their problems as much as their profits. New ventures necessitate a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that balances effective prevention methods with intrusion detection and rapid incident response. Firewalls that go beyond standard practices like IP address blocking and rate limits, combined with real-time endpoint monitoring, are critical for detecting and deterring DDoS and malware attacks.

Exhaustive technical surveillance countermeasures (TSCM) are also essential to shielding sensitive intellectual property from the prying eyes of competitors and adversaries. By adopting a comprehensive information security strategy, investors in the Cuban market can realize long-term gains while establishing a culture of information security in a country on the cusp of a technological revolution.