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What can be done to protect Singapore from cyber attacks?

As a financial hub, it is critical that Singapore protects itself against cyber attacks. This may mean a need for more robust security measures, but how much more has to be done to keep data safe and secure?  

SINGAPORE: As Singapore pushes forward to becoming a Smart Nation, cyber security has become a top priority.

The Cyber Security Agency was set up in 2015 to work with various sectors to ensure that Singapore stays resilient against cyber attacks. A new five-year National Cyber Security Masterplan 2018 has also been launched by the Infocomm Development Authority, aimed at strengthening Singapore’s cyber security efforts.

"Singapore has probably the leading capability in this region in cyber security, but no country today can deal with all cyber security threats,” said Mr Bryce Boland, chief technology officer of FireEye.

“If you look globally, the United States does have the greatest capability - both offensively and defensively - and they are struggling to keep up with the attacks that are taking place every day. So while Singapore is an outstanding example for the region, in terms of the capabilities to withstand all of the different types of threats, it still has a long way to go," he added.

However, cyber attacks may not just be the work of individuals or institutions. A form of cyber espionage is evolving, where nation states routinely penetrate foreign government agencies and private sector entities to steal valuable data.

Last year, global intelligence agency Interpol’s Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI) set up a Digital Crime Centre in Singapore to enable more information sharing between law enforcement agencies and the private sector to combat cyber crimes.

"Today's intelligence agencies are going to rely heavily on cyber techniques to gain access to the information they want,” said Mr Boland. “Whether it is intelligence about politics - what's happening in terms of trade negotiations - or even if you are trying to find out what's happening in the boardroom of a major company, today most of the intelligence gathering is done through cyber means."

Some experts said that cyber espionage may have the same serious consequences as those of a terrorist attack. FireEye said that there are about 50 nations that have offensive cyber capabilities, and Singapore's economic prowess could entice rogue entities to develop sophisticated attacks.

"You don't need to put your own attackers or citizens or members of your armed forces into harm's way,” said Mr Dave Palmer, director of technology at Darktrace. “You literally can do it from an armchair from the other side of the world without putting anyone at risk."

For Singapore, even a breach on a Government system could see sensitive data of its citizens compromised and thus magnifying the threat.

Said Mr Jonathan Fairtlough, cyber managing director of Kroll: "Governments have to look at ways to protect data meaningfully.

"That means to start looking at defenses beyond simple things like anti-virus and looking at what we would call a ‘defense in depth’, where you are not only protecting the external systems, but you are also protecting the inside and you are monitoring and tracking what's going on inside the data networks to identify the hacker and the threat of data before the information leaves.”

As cyber attacks get more sophisticated, Singapore has even looked beyond its shores to strengthen its cyber defences, partnering with countries such as India and the United States in information sharing in this field.