Dito taps US firms, sets ₱1B budget for cybersecurity amid espionage fears

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(FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 17) — Dito Telecommunity is tapping American companies to provide cybersecurity services ahead of its rollout next year, with ₱1 billion set aside for data protection initiatives.

Dito chief administrative officer Adel Tamano said the new telecommunications player has tapped the services of 12 cybersecurity solutions providers from the United States as it looks to boost digital safety.

Among Dito's cybersecurity partners are Fortinet, NexusGuard, McAfee, Nessus, Veritas, Pentaho Data, IDAM Systems by BeyondTrust, Microsoft, Cisco ISE, Siemplify, ManageEngine and SolarWinds.

Dito is spending ₱1 billion on cybersecurity measures this year, saying it "understands the importance" of assuring the public on data privacy. This forms part of the ₱150 billion investments which the mobile service provider has so far spent this year, to be followed by an expected ₱27 billion outlay for capital and operating expenses in 2021.

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Commercial rates for subscription and services have not been finalized, Tamano added, amid rumors online about Dito's fees.

Dito is building 2,040 cell towers nationwide ahead of its commercial rollout in March 2021. Tamano said they are trying to make the launch date earlier, given that the company expects to complete its initial requirement of 1,300 cell sites as early as end-October. Data centers are also under construction.

'Lucky' to partner with Chinatel

Dito allayed fears regarding its partnership with China Telecom (Chinatel) –– a state-run corporation in Beijing –– and argued that they are actually "fortunate" to have them on board.

China Telecom owns a stake worth less than 40 percent of Dito, with majority shares held by billionaire businessman Dennis Uy's Udenna Corporation and Chelsea Logistics.

This comes amid renewed concerns about data privacy and even spying mainly tied to Dito's partner, China Telecom. Fueling such fears is the recent decision to allow Dito to install cell towers and communications equipment within military camps all over the country.

"Instead of complaining why we're partnering with Chinatel, I think we should actually reconsider that and see that the way forward is with a company... that will bring 5G technology to our country," Tamano said, insisting that the foreign company is merely serving as mentor and technical adviser.

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"I believe we are bringing the superior and authentic 5G technology as experienced by other countries," he added, calling Chinatel as the world leader in 5G technology.

Tamano wondered why there's "unfair treatment" towards Chinese partners compared to other nationalities.

The Philippines has a long-standing territorial dispute with China, as the latter continues its incursions in the West Philippine Sea despite the 2016 ruling of an international tribunal that dismissed Beijing's sweeping claims of waters and features in the South China Sea.

"If, really, Chinatel is in control, they would not allow a US technology company to provide the cybersecurity solutions," Dito chief technology officer Rolando Santiago pointed out.

Tensions between the US and China have been heightened in the past years over trade, and more recently on technology, as seen on its crackdown against Chinese gadget maker Huawei and video sharing platform TikTok. Any conflict that could arise between their Chinese partners and American solutions providers will have to be resolved internally, Santiago added.

"China Telecom is an investor and that's all they are. Dito remains a Filipino company... We are bound and we must comply with Philippine laws," Tamano added, denying that the Chinese firm's involvement requires the network to adhere to China's National Intelligence Law, which critics said could be the vehicle for spying.

All of Dito's officials and decision makers are Filipinos, he added.

Tamano also cited that Santiago, a former military official, was deliberately chosen to serve as Dito's chief technology officer, given his communications expertise. "We knew that someone like this would not allow any threats to cybersecurity or any spying to be done," he added.

RELATED: AFP sees low risk for spying as China-backed Dito set to install cell towers in camps