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Award winner developed first secure email system for civil servants

SINGAPORE — When Professor Yu Chien Siang entered the workforce in 1981 after completing his electronics engineering degree in Germany, the field of cyber security was uncharted territory.

Award winner developed first secure email system for civil servants

Professor Yu Chien Siang (fifth from right), adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore, was awarded the Hall of Fame Award at the inaugural Cybersecurity Awards and Gala Dinner on Friday (Feb 23) for his exceptional leadership, commitment and contributions to the cybersecurity ecosystem. Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim (seventh from right) was the guest-of-honour at the event.

SINGAPORE — When Professor Yu Chien Siang entered the workforce in 1981 after completing his electronics engineering degree in Germany, the field of cyber security was uncharted territory.

In the 1990s, he went on to develop the first secure email system here — similar to the end-to-end encryption on messaging applications today — which the Government used then to transmit sensitive information.

On Friday (Feb 23), the 62-year-old adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore was awarded the Hall of Fame Award at the inaugural Cybersecurity Awards and Gala Dinner for his exceptional leadership, commitment and contributions to the cyber-security ecosystem.

The awards, organised by the Association of Information Security Professionals and supported by the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore, was held at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre. Some 300 guests, including cybersecurity industry leaders, professionals and students, attended the event.

Prof Yu, who is also the senior vice president and chief innovation officer at cyber security services provider Quann Asia Pacific, said that his first job after he graduated from university was at the Ministry of Defence. There, he helped to build computers by hand, including the keyboards and monitors. Later, he and his colleagues picked up software skills on their own, eventually writing their own operating systems.

As he was rotated to work in different departments in the civil service, he continued to build things, including the first secure systems used by the Government.

At a time when people were not using email, he built an encryption system within the word processors so that civil servants could transmit information securely. Later, he transformed the encryption system into a software when personal computers (PCs) were being used.

“If you watch the James Bond movies, I was like (the character) Q in the movies. I’m doing the security aspect… the guy that is protecting all the information,” he said.

These days, Prof Yu continues his work in malware, artificial intelligence, and the security aspect of the Internet of Things, robots and drones.

As one of the six individuals and organisations honoured at the inaugural awards on Friday evening, Prof Yu said that the awards ceremony shows how the cyber-security industry has matured.

While recognising the contributions of the winners, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, who was the guest-of-honour at the event, said in his speech that these are still “early days yet” for the cyber-security sector.

Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in-charge of Cyber Security, added that the sector has the potential to exceed S$1 billion by 2020.

Earlier this month, Parliament passed the Cybersecurity Bill, which he said would open up opportunities for the industry to work with the Government on developing capabilities and services. Under the landmark Bill, owners of critical information infrastructure in 11 key sectors that provide essential services must report cyber-security incidents and provide information to the Commissioner of Cybersecurity.

Motivated and skilled people will also be key to growing the cyber-security field, Dr Yaacob said. The Government is collaborating with the industry to enhance cyber-security professionals’ skills sets, such as through the Cybersecurity Associates and Technologists programme between the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority, which works with industry partners to train information and communications technology professionals and enhance their skills for cyber-security jobs.

Having a strong cyber-security environment is a key building block for Singapore’s digital transformation, he added.

“These are indeed exciting times for cyber-security professionals, with many growth opportunities and unexplored territory... and I hope that industry players, our educational institutions and the Government work together closely as we take the next step forward,” he said.

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