SINGAPORE: There is a need to be aware of online threats revolving around cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and blockchain given how Singapore is being seen as “favourable” to such technologies, CrowdStrike vice president Adam Meyers suggested.
The cybersecurity practitioner, who has been in the space for about 15 years, told Channel NewsAsia in an interview that compared to other countries like China, Japan and South Korea that have come out strongly against cryptocurrency, Singapore’s measured responses to the development of such technologies have been seen as welcoming.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, for example, said in February this year that there was no strong case to be made for the banning of digital coins here. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in May did issue warnings to eight digital token exchanges for facilitating the trading of such currencies that are securities or futures contracts without authorisation.
By comparison, China had ordered Beijing-based cryptocurrency exchanges to shutter last September, while Japan cracked down on such exchanges following the Coincheck hack with seven exchanges punished in March this year.
Mr Meyers said the difference in stance by Singapore has created an appearance of openness for those in the cryptocurrency to go about its ways, and this brings with it certain risks as it puts a target on the country’s backs where cybercriminals are concerned.
For instance, these cybercriminals could target cryptocurrency exchanges or platforms that help store bitcoin wallets with the intention of robbing them, Mr Meyers pointed out. Just last week a bitcoin exchange Bithumb - the biggest in South Korea - was hit with criminals making away with US$30 million in virtual currency, while Tokyo-based Coincheck was hacked and US$500 million was stolen in January this year.
There could also be efforts to introduce malware to computer systems here, whether as a means to scan for digital wallets and currency or to conduct cryptomining activities, he added.
The Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team (SingCERT) had previously issued at least three advisories on digital currency mining since last November.
GLOBAL PLAYER, BIGGER TARGET
Singapore is also an attractive target because of its highly connected nature and linkages to global trade flows, Mr Meyers said.
For instance, the country is a key node in the trading of oil and gas and, as such, had been targeted by Russia-based hackers, codenamed Berserk Bear, last year, the company said in its 2018 Global Threat Report.
One of the reasons could be that Russia is a major exporter of gas and would want to know how liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports are doing and how it is moving in and around Singapore, Mr Meyers explained. As part of Berserk Bear’s reconnaissance operations, it has been monitoring the energy, maritime and manufacturing sectors - all of which the city-state is active in, he added.
“When organisations in Singapore think about cybersecurity threats, they cannot just think narrowly on why it is being targeted,” the cybersecurity expert advised, but view it from the wider perspective that it is a vital cog in the overall economic landscape.
“You might not be hacked today, in this incident, but you might be tomorrow because you’re part of the overall chain,” he added.