JAYA PRAKASH's picture
Singapore delays much vaunted cybersecurity law
Posted on Nov 24, 2017

Singapore may not have said it like it is, but the tiny city-state is adroit enough to recognize the limits and stakes within the digital age it now lives.

To its own dismay, it is now finding out that the very porous digital frontiers are not just affecting companies and commerce. Its municipal bodies are increasingly vulnerable to cyber-criminals, hacktivists and spies. The nation’s armed forces found that out this year, and the nation’s Prime Minister himself was rudely awakened in 2014 when his office website was hacked.

Cyber vulnerabilities are a very real concern. And if there is something to be pondered out aloud, it is how cyber attacks neatly dovetail with the "campaign of terror" in South East Asia, blighted additionally by the savage brutality of war in southern Philippines. Since the end of that terror campaign, the focus has turned to the question of how to apprehend the cyber warriors bent on wreaking havoc.

Beating off threats may not be easy. The Internet was created for the altruistic goal of connectivity. The need to battle security breaches of this extent was not imagined when the digital revolution first began, and though firewalls and anti-malware devices did work for a while, they never really seem to have been able pin down the numerous data breaches that Singapore, along with the rest of the world, continue to endure.

On the one hand, cyber connectivity has produced benefits, namely in areas of commerce and relations building. However, even as Singapore enjoys the highest level of connectivity in the world, apart from Korea and Japan, there is a nagging concern that all may not be hunky-dory.

The problem becomes particularly worrisome when a terror network mounts attacks on companies and other strategic infrastructure in sectors such as telecommunications or rail networks. Though such attacks may not be easy, an attack by cyber agents on a Maersk Shipping line, as reported by Reuters, is the just kind of assault Singapore wants to avoid at all costs.

As with all change, the road to implementing the new bill proved challenging. According to Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore's Minister in charge of Cyber Security, the nation must to build "a sustainable pool of skilled practitioners" to improve security. Although the minister did not mention how grave that shortage is, there are plans to institute a Cyber Security Academy in Singapore to train and equip students with needed knowledge and skills. And that is over and above the armed forces, which is readying to train its troops in the art of cyber warfare.

At a first glance, the lack of capabilities seem to lie at the heart of raising a truly credible fighting force; untrained in the kinds of challenges the digital era has wrought. Though the minister did not flesh out more details, collaboration efforts are on the cards with Singapore’s neighbours.

The delay in implementing the bill to 2018 seems to stem mainly from the complexities of defining critical information infrastructures and from identifying the kinds of services that will require tighter monitoring.

– Jaya Prakash is a Singapore-based journalist.