Gatekeeping ASEAN’s Digital Economy

Despite being one of the fastest-growing internet environments in the world, investment into Southeast Asia’s digital security infrastructure has not kept pace with the region’s rising connectivity – leaving it vulnerable to cyber-attacks which could adversely impact people, business and institutions in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

Today, SecureMetric Technology is working with the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) to expand its homegrown solutions region-wide and has initiated efforts to raise the capabilities of Malaysia’s future digital security professionals.


Protecting the region’s sensitive data

Southeast Asia has an opportunity to leapfrog to the forefront of the fast-moving global digital economy, particularly as it is now the world’s fastest-growing internet region.

But as digital solutions are disrupting industries, enriching lives and propelling progress across Southeast Asia, there is also dark side to this transformation; with cyber-terrorism, cyber fraud, and identity theft increasingly threatening the regional digital economy’s potential.

While threats such as malware and direct denial of service (DDoS) attacks can ruin a business’s operations and reputation, the fact that governments across Southeast Asia are also digitalising their processes means that any attack on them will generate profound negative consequences.

But as ASEAN states are reaching to bolster their digital security protocols, the cost to import solutions from outside the region is making such endeavours relatively prohibitive – especially for the region’s emerging economies which are most vulnerable to attacks.

Realising the dearth of digital security solutions that are homegrown in ASEAN, SecureMetric Technology and its founder Edward Law Seeh Key have been working over the past decade to innovate end-to-end digital solutions that secure applications, digital identities and online transactions that are tailored to the regional market.


Self-innovating for greater value

Law’s journey within the digital security space began in 2001 with Softkey Malaysia, a company which was focused on the trading of third-party sourced software licensing protection dongles and electronic identification products.

Although the first few years had Softkey expand its product offering to include public key infrastructure (PKI) tokens and establish a subsidiary in Indonesia, the products they supplied remained sourced from elsewhere. An opportunity presented itself when Softkey’s expansion began to include larger-scale government-linked contracts. To raise its efficiency, minimise operations costs and future-proof itself in an increasingly-congested market, the company had to consider producing its own proprietary solutions.

“During our early years, we faced many challenges in securing higher-profile accounts. However, our customer’s references in Indonesia encouraged us to try our hand at expanding”, said Law. “But as our funds were limited then, we only conducted small-scale projects in Indonesia and tried to keep costs down by hiring fresh graduates.”

This was the moment when Law saw the potential to add even greater value to his business and was driven to transform Softkey from a trading company into a digital security technology company which innovates its own product offerings.

But instead of just changing Softkey’s business focus, Law opted to incorporate SecureMetric Technology a new company in 2007 to initiate the research and development of its own in-house digital security solutions.

Starting your own business is rarely easy, as Edward Law discovered when he ran his first company from the rented apartment he was living in.


Building a trusted name in ASEAN

Law saw that the rising affinity for digital solutions in ASEAN meant that the market was ripe for his company’s expansion. It was not long before the company began to make its regional overtures, beginning with Indonesia in 2008.

But SecureMetric’s biggest milestones were yet to come. After commencing R&D on its proprietary PKI solutions in 2010, SecureMetric secured its first-ever PKI contract for its in-house developed solutions with FPT Information System Corporation in Vietnam.

Two years later, SecureMetric inked a deal that would place it at the forefront of the ASEAN digital security industry. The company collaborated with Sweden-based security solutions company PrimeKey Solutions AB on a project for the Advanced Science and Technology Institute of Philippines (a research and development institute under the country’s Department of Science and Technology) to implement the Philippine National PKI. SecureMetric’s role in the project was to supply its proprietary token management system and PKI tokens, as well as third-party hardware security models (HSMs) and digital signing solutions.

Riding on this wave of success, SecureMetric would spend the next few years establishing a presence in both the Philippines and Singapore. During this time, the company’s R&D operations paid off. Firstly, with the launch of SecureMetric’s PKI IN A BOX (an off-the-shelf PKI solution designed for quick deployment) in 2013 and, in 2014, CENTAGATE® – a centralised authentication management system which incorporates multi-factor authentication, PKI solutions and risk-scoring into single solution.

“Our decision to venture overseas was to expand the reach of our services, as we identified opportunities in line with the digital growth in this region”, said Law.

Subsequent years would see the company reinforce its presence in the ASEAN digital security market, with SecureMetric tying up deals in Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam to implement its PKI IN A BOX and CENTAGATE® solutions.

From beginning with just seven people in 2007, SecureMetric today comprises a team of almost a hundred personnel in offices across Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The company’s rapidly-growing portfolio now boasts of clients (consisting of government agencies, financial institutions, transport firms and regional e-commerce platforms) in Southeast Asia as well as the United States, China, Hong Kong and the Middle East.

The company has stated that its in-house solutions are exportable, referring to having successfully achieved more than 70 percent of its revenue via export sales. They have also completed many mission-critical digital security projects for government agencies, financial institutions, IT service providers as well as major e-commerce players such as Lazada.


Raising exposure and mentoring engagements with MDEC

SecureMetric’s relationship with the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) stretches back to the company’s incorporation in 2007, when it was accorded an MSC status (a recognition by the Malaysian government for ICT-facilitated businesses).

However, their partnership really took off in recent years when SecureMetric joined MDEC’s Global Acceleration and Innovation Network (GAIN) programme. For Law, MDEC’s mission trips with MSC-status companies around Southeast Asia has helped SecureMetric grow its regional visibility and deepen its stakeholder networks. This is in addition to the company attending MDEC’s workshops on inorganic growth – which Law highlighted has elevated SecureMetric’s perception and appreciation towards mergers and acquisitions.

“I very much enjoyed MDEC’s workshops. Although we had contemplated pursuing inorganic growth, our plans weren’t concrete. However, the case studies shared at the workshop helped to open my eyes and provide me with new perspectives on how we should grow.”

While MDEC’s regional outreach endeavours has helped the company in externally growing its profile, Law said that the agency also helped him better assess how he could improve SecureMetric internally.

This is as initiatives such as the SME Competitiveness Rating for Enhancement (SCORE) tool had helped Law to measure his companies’ capabilities and move it up to higher level of performance to boost productivity and competitivity. On the other hand, endeavours such as the MDEC’s ‘Founder vs CEO’ workshop had proved useful in helping Law analyse and strategize SecureMetric’s human capital deployment.

“The workshop made me step back and think about my role as SecureMetric’s founder, particularly as we have grown into almost a hundred people from less than 10 previously. It also helped me reconsider what the role of a founder really is, as today you’d really need to run your company as a CEO.”

Law added that he has been impressed with how MDEC has been championing the growth of Malaysia’s digital economy. Moving forward, however, he hopes that the agency will continue to organise workshops to not only train company founders and management; but to also mentor junior staff who form the companies’ backbone.

Nevertheless, SecureMetric today is doing its own part to help nurture budding digital security experts in Malaysia. The company plans to establish a ‘2+1’ programme with local universities to offer an internship at the company to computer science students during their final year.

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