SINGAPORE: There are "some indicators" that Singapore was recently the target of an information warfare campaign by a state seeking to legitimise its actions on the international sphere, said an academic giving evidence to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods in a private session on Friday (Mar 16).
The committee held two private sessions on Friday to hear oral evidence. These were held in private as they "concerned matters of national security and international relations", it said in its summary of evidence for the third day of proceedings.
In one of these sessions, Dr Gulizar Haciyakupoglu - a research fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University - noted how a state tried to influence certain segments of society through news articles and social media, in order to "legitimise" its "actions on an international sphere".
The state was not identified in the evidence summary.
She also noted how Singapore had previously been the victim of several cyberattacks, including attacks on sensitive ministries.
"The threat is real for Singapore," Dr Haciyakupoglu said.
Dr Haciyakupoglu said that disinformation campaigns have become more sophisticated, and said that at times civilians can participate as "circulators of disinformation" and can even be "part of a militia that acts in support of a state-sponsored disinformation campaign".
Such campaigns are complemented by cyberattacks, including malware attacks, Distributed Denial of Service attacks and integration of "backdoors programmes", which allow aggressor states to collect information on the target country's citizens to guide their actions and increase their impact, she added.
The academic gave a specific example of two countries, named "X" and "Y" in the committee's summary of evidence for "reasons of (confidentiality)".
Country X, which embraces an "unrestricted approach to warfare", she said, has taken efforts to infiltrate country Y through several methods including disinformation campaigns.
This "unrestricted approach" includes using civilians from country Y through three means: Manipulating country Y's media; spreading influence in the country with the help of businessmen, students and other groups; and carrying out cyberattacks with the help of country Y's civilians, so there is no direct link back to country X.
SINGAPORE "NOT YET FULLY PREPARED" FOR DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN METHODS
Another research fellow at RSIS, Dr Damien Cheong, also gave evidence in a separate private session, during which he said that Singapore is not "fully prepared" for methods by which disinformation campaigns are carried out.
He noted that there are cyber-armies in the region, including Malaysia and Indonesia, that can be easily deployed against Singapore directly or as proxies for another country.
He also warned that incidents could be - and have been - created to generate distrust among highly trusted institutions, such as the police.
"Undermining trust in the police force will undermine trust in the state," he added.
He also warned that individuals needed to be careful about using phones "which have been manufactured by companies based in foreign states".
"Many are likely to have back-end access to foreign intelligence agencies," he said.