SINGAPORE: Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran on Friday (Feb 15) urged Singaporeans to be responsible, alert and secure online, as he outlined measures on implementing Digital Defence – Singapore’s sixth and newest pillar of Total Defence.
Being responsible and alert refers to fighting fake news; being secure means taking steps against cyberattacks and online scams.
READ: Digital Defence pillar added to Singapore's Total Defence framework to strengthen cybersecurity
This is crucial for Singapore to be a vibrant Smart Nation, Mr Iswaran said, noting that a digital economy creates opportunities for businesses and people, while a digital government delivers better services to citizens and companies.
“Whether we succeed or fail in this important endeavour will depend critically on whether we also have a strong Digital Defence,” Mr Iswaran said at a Total Defence Day commemoration event held at Fort Canning Green.
His speech comes after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced the addition of Digital Defence on Thursday, signalling the importance of strengthening cybersecurity and the ability to respond to digital threats.
He highlighted the “especially pernicious threat” of hybrid operations involving hostile information campaigns and the spread of falsehoods.
“They can foment distrust between ethnic and religious communities, weaken social cohesion and trigger violence,” he added.
READ: More than 70% in Singapore have come across fake news online: REACH poll
For instance, Mr Iswaran said false claims about the disruption of a January 2018 Thaipusam procession by a police officer and a member of the Hindu Endowments Board were spread widely online and could have caused racial or religious strife.
He added that Singaporeans should be responsible by considering the impact of their actions on the community when producing or amplifying information.
“As a responsible member of the online community, what we can minimally do is to not propagate or amplify fake news,” he said.
“If we doubt the truth of a piece of information, we should do the right thing and choose not to post or forward it.”
Singaporeans should also be alert and vigilant against fake news, Mr Iswaran said, reiterating the importance of looking up the source of the information, cross-checking it with other reliable sources, distinguishing facts from opinions, and exercising sound judgment.
“Determining whether a piece of information is true can be time-consuming and challenging, especially as fake news becomes increasingly sophisticated and pervasive,” he added.
CYBERATTACKS AND ONLINE SCAMS
Besides the threat of fake news, Mr Iswaran said cyberattacks can “debilitate entire systems, disrupt the economy and daily lives, and even lead to injury and death”.
Online scams have also been rising in variety and sophistication, he added.
READ: S$99 million lost to scams in 2017: Police
In Singapore, a cyberattack on SingHealth last June saw the records of 1.5 million patients accessed and copied, while since last September, more than 90 victims have been deceived into providing DBS Internet banking details on fraudulent websites.
“We are an open and highly connected city-state,” Mr Iswaran stated. “The very connectivity that we rely on for economic growth and efficient public services also leaves us vulnerable to threats from the digital domain.”
Mr Iswaran reminded Singaporeans to practise good cybersecurity habits to secure their data and devices.
This includes using strong passwords and two-factor authentication, installing anti-virus software, updating software as soon as possible and looking out for signs of phishing.
These steps become even more necessary as the battle against online scams and cyberattacks is set to continue, Mr Iswaran said.
For example, he said it will only get more difficult to distinguish truth from falsehood as artificial intelligence increases the speed and seamlessness with which deepfake images and videos on fraudulent websites can be created.
As for cyberattacks, Mr Iswaran said the SingHealth incident was not the first time Singapore was the target of a cyberattack. “It will certainly not be the last,” he added.
Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can tap the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s SMEs Go Digital programme for advice and subsidies for pre-approved cybersecurity solutions.
“SMEs who need assistance can reach out to their nearest SME Centre for basic advice, or be referred to the SME Digital Tech Hub for more advanced needs,” Mr Iswaran added.
EVERYONE HAS PART TO PLAY
Ultimately, Singaporeans are on the front line of Digital Defence, said Mr Iswaran who called on each citizen to defend the nation on all fronts.
After Mr Iswaran and Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman launched Digital Defence, attendees observed a minute of silence for those who lost their lives in World War II.
Recruits from the Commando Training Institute were also presented with their weapons during the Weapon Presentation Ceremony, the first time the commandos are holding it at a public venue.
"With new threats looming, it is timely and apt that we augment Total Defence for a digital era by including Digital Defence," Mr Iswaran added.
"We must strengthen our collective resolve and come together as a nation … to keep Singapore safe and secure, in both the real and virtual worlds."