Accountants have critical role in helping businesses fight cybercrime: Josephine Teo

Accountants have critical role in helping businesses fight cybercrime: Josephine Teo

File Photo Josephine Teo
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo. (File photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: Accountants can step beyond their traditional roles and help businesses fight cybercrime, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo on Thursday (Jul 18).

Forensic accounting, digital forensics and financial crime compliance are critical skills for accountants in combating cybercrime, Mrs Teo highlighted at the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) forensics and cybersecurity conference.

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“In recent times, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) has seen cases where complainants, people who have approached CAD to report cases, these complainants observed financial irregularities, but they were not fully able to make sense of these irregularities,” said Mrs Teo, who is also Manpower Minister.

This changed only when audit or accounting firms came in to perform forensic accounting and digital forensics, which then led to firms being able to take action to strengthen their cyber defenses, she added.

“What does this tell us? It tells us that in the age of digitalisation, businesses still need accountants,” said the minister.

“You can be much more useful by stepping beyond traditional roles to help your clients combat cybercrime.”

Accountants needed to hone their skills in three areas, said Mrs Teo. The first was forensic accounting, which she said was critical to help “uncover fraudulent activities from among voluminous transactional data”.

The second capability would be digital forensics, as more transactions are becoming digital and mobile.

Finally, accountants should also focus on financial crime compliance, which must evolve to keep up with new business models such as peer-to-peer lending, the minister said.

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In her speech, Mrs Teo said that the threat of cybercrime was complex and could not be tackled just by accountants alone.

“Increasingly, businesses are pulling together cross-domain teams to respond to cyber incidents,” she said. “Therefore, to be effective, accountants will need to collaborate with other professionals, such as in audit, legal, and cybersecurity.”

The minister added that no organisations should believe that they are immune to cyber threats.

“We can do our level best to protect ourselves, but must still expect incidents from time to time.

"What we must then do, is that when incidents happen, we must swiftly engage our enforcement and regulatory agencies, and work with them to investigate and then build up new defences."


In her speech, Mrs Teo said that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was also determined to help strengthen cybercrime investigation.

She highlighted the Digest Evidence Search Tool (DIGEST), which is currently being developed by Home Team engineers.

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“DIGEST sifts through large quantities of data extracted from digital devices, and identifies evidence that could aid investigations,” said Mrs Teo.

The system then will analyse the information and present a coherent picture linking the different pieces of evidence.

Mrs Teo explained that with this tool, Singapore Police Force’s investigation officers who are not trained in forensics would be able to conduct evidence review on their own.

“Investigators can therefore go about their work more efficiently, and hopefully the period of investigation to get to the root of the problem can also be shortened,” she said.

She added that the new Home Team Science & Technology Agency will be able to provide state-of-the-art science and tech capabilities, including digital forensics.

Source: CNA/ad