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Digital defence key to success of S’pore’s Smart Nation drive: Iswaran

SINGAPORE — The cyber attack on public healthcare cluster SingHealth last year was not the first such attack on Singapore and it will certainly not be the last, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran on Friday (Feb 15) at the official launch of the new digital defence pillar.

Digital defence key to success of S’pore’s Smart Nation drive: Iswaran

Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran at the 2019 Total Defence Day Commemoration Event and launch of Digital Defence as the sixth pillar of Total Defence.

SINGAPORE — The cyber attack on public healthcare cluster SingHealth last year was not the first such attack on Singapore and it will certainly not be the last, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran on Friday (Feb 15) at the official launch of the new digital defence pillar.

The sixth Total Defence pillar forms part of Singapore’s overall security strategy. The others are: Military, civil, economic, social and psychological defence.

Calling on Singaporeans to be secure, alert and responsible online, Mr Iswaran also described online falsehoods as an "especially pernicious threat" that can stir up distrust between ethnic and religious communities, weaken social cohesion and trigger violence.

The new pillar underscores the urgency of beefing up Singapore’s cyber defences as it presses on with its digital economy and Smart Nation visions, he added.

"Whether we succeed or fail in this important (Smart Nation) endeavour will depend critically on whether we also have a strong Digital Defence," said Mr Iswaran.

Recruits from the Commando Training Institute at Fort Canning Green for the Total Defence Day Commemoration Event. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY

As he delivered his speech at Fort Canning Green — the site where the British decided 77 years ago to surrender to the Japanese during World War II — recruits from the Commando Training Institute stood on a lawn nearby.

For the first time, recruits from the Commando formation were presented with their weapons at a public venue as part of the Total Defence Day commemoration event. A minute of silence was also held to remember those who lost their lives during the war.

Recounting the stark memories of the Japanese occupation, Mr Iswaran said that besides building a strong armed force, defending the nation included building a strong economy, living harmoniously with people of all backgrounds and forging a resilient society with a strong shared Singapore identity.

These form the other five pillars of Total Defence, which was launched in 1984.

While Singapore has to deal with conventional threats and terrorism in the real world, the digital domain poses a new type of threat to its safety and security, Mr Iswaran said.

"Today, we are confronted by the scourge of online scams, fake news and cyber attacks in the digital world," he added.

"Malicious cyber attacks can and do debilitate entire systems, disrupt the economy and daily lives, and even lead to injury and death."

Between June 27 and July 4 last year, an advanced persistent threat group broke into SingHealth's IT database and stole the personal data of 1.5 million patients and the outpatient medication information of 160,000 of them — including the Prime Minister's.

More recently, the Ministry of Health said on Jan 28 that the medical records of 14,200 HIV-positive people were illegally disclosed online by deported American Mikhy Brochez, whose partner used to work at the ministry.

On Tuesday, Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said in Parliament that Singapore would consider legislation to counter deliberate online falsehoods and state-sponsored campaigns that threaten national security.

"It will only get more difficult to distinguish truth from falsehood as artificial intelligence exacerbates the spread and seamlessness with which deep fake images and videos can be created," Mr Iswaran noted.

DIGITAL DEFENCE INITIATIVES

The idea for the digital defence pillar came about when the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) was created in 2015, and took on renewed urgency about nine months ago.

A competition will be held later in the year to design a new Total Defence logo, which will be unveiled at next year's Total Defence Day.

Ongoing and upcoming initiatives under the digital defence pillar include:

  • Privacy Awareness Week by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Personal Data Protection Commission

  • "Cyber Tips 4 You" campaign by the CSA to get people to use strong passwords and 2-factor authentication, for example

  • CSA’s Cyber Savvy Machine which will rove islandwide to spread awareness via quizzes

  • Media Literacy Council's Better Internet campaign which tackles issues such as cyber bullying

  • Tech Connect by MCI, IMDA and People's Association — a pilot project at community centres which provides one-on-one tech assistance to those who need help

Members of the public and secondary school students will also be able to take part in IMDA's Lab on Wheels Programme, which is a cyber security-themed bus outfitted with activities and showcases.

One of the stations on the bus will teach participants about how personal information can be fished from social media platforms such as Instagram. For example, geotagging a photo, or sharing moments on Instagram stories can reveal information such as a person's home address, NRIC, contact number, occupation, family members' personal details and more.

The Lab on Wheels bus made its first stop at Bendemeer Secondary School this week, and schools can sign up for the programme from Friday.

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