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Govts, private firms need to join hands against new threats posed by rapid technological change: DPM Teo

SINGAPORE — As technology evolves at a rapid clip, governments and private firms are struggling to resolve new vulnerabilities, including those thrown up by the same systems meant to address defence and security gaps, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean who called for greater collaboration across borders and sectors.

Govts, private firms need to join hands against new threats posed by rapid technological change: DPM Teo

Speaking at the inaugural Singapore Defence Technology Summit at the Shangri-La Hotel on Thursday (June 28), Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said defence and security services globally were barely keeping pace with threats posed by rapid technological developments.

SINGAPORE — As technology evolves at a rapid clip, governments and private firms are struggling to resolve new vulnerabilities, including those thrown up by the same systems meant to address defence and security gaps, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean who called for greater collaboration across borders and sectors.

Speaking at the inaugural Singapore Defence Technology Summit at the Shangri-La Hotel on Thursday (June 28), Mr Teo said defence and security services globally were barely keeping pace with threats posed by rapid technological developments.

"It will take some time before more effective countermeasures become available and affordable," said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

Criminals, for instance, have seized upon drones for smuggling and corporate espionage, as such commercially available unmanned aircraft become more affordable and capable.

"Terrorists also use them for surveillance and aerial delivery of improvised explosive devices to penetrate otherwise well-defended targets," Mr Teo said.

While greater interconnectivity has made lives more convenient, and allowed cities and businesses to be better managed, vulnerabilities have also climbed exponentially as a result.

"If we are concerned about our air-traffic-control systems being hacked, disrupting flights, what greater concerns and dangers there are if unmanned aerial vehicles and autonomous flying vehicles are added to the mix in the same airspace," Mr Teo said.

A heavier reliance on interconnected digital systems broadens the "surface area" susceptible to attack. This allows attacks to morph with great speed and scale, dealing a blow across entire systems, he added.

Not only can cyber attacks be carried out anonymously on telecommunications, broadcasting or banking systems. Insidious attempts to interfere surreptitiously in a country's internal affairs and influence electoral outcomes have also been observed, Mr Teo said.

Owing to pervasive digital systems, for instance, hybrid warfare spanning the physical, virtual and socio-psychological spheres can now be waged on a wider scale.

"While the defence and security community is keenly aware of these new vulnerabilities, the reality often is that governments and commercial operators struggle to find solutions," Mr Teo said.

Even major social media and technology companies are grappling with how to assure consumers of responsible use of their private data, or how to ensure that the enormous power and reach of their platforms are not misused for societal harm, said Mr Teo.

Governments, firms and the academic community need to join hands to tackle these issues, which straddle industries and national boundaries, he reiterated.

Governments and firms, in particular, need to deal with rising "concentration risks" brought on by increasing interconnectivity, and a greater dependence on key nodes and critical information infrastructure. They should also tie up with researchers to devise solutions to wrestle with evolving vulnerabilities.

Noting that Singapore has been beefing up its cyber defences, Mr Teo said the country looked forward to working with its international partners to better grasp ways to deal with attacks on both national and globally interconnected systems, including in transport.

There was also a need to collaborate on new codes of practice and norms for technologies poised for deployment but where global standards are absent presently, Mr Teo said.

The test grounds in Singapore for autonomous vehicles before they hit public roads are one such example.

Mr Teo's speech came a day after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen highlighted the risks and dilemmas which countries have to grapple with, as governments plough huge investments in technology and increasingly work with the private sector to develop defence capabilities.

In the wrong hands, new technologies could be used to undermine nations' "collective security", for example, said Dr Ng, who was speaking at the summit's opening ceremony.

For instance, terrorists and their networks are already using encrypted applications to orchestrate terrorist plots, or conduct surveillance through drones, which can also be used to deliver improvised explosive devices, said Dr Ng. Among other things, he also cited the potential of artificial intelligence and the ethical implications of machines replacing human decision-making.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the summit on Wednesday, Singapore and the United Kingdom renewed for the next decade a memorandum of understanding (MOU) — inked in 1998 — on co-operative defence research, Singapore's Defence Ministry (Mindef) said.

Under the renewed agreement, Singapore will continue its tie-up with the UK's Defence Ministry in research and technological development, as well as testing defence-related technologies.

The two sides will also look to deepen their collaboration in logistics management, maritime autonomy and counter-terrorism, Mindef said.

Singapore's chief defence scientist Quek Gim Pew and Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte — chief scientific adviser to the UK's Defence Ministry — signed the renewed MOU. This was witnessed by Mr Neo Kian Hong, Singapore's permanent secretary for defence development, and British high commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman.

 

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