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Cyberterrorism top among concerns at international security talks

Cyberterrorism top among concerns at international security talks

Mr Juan Zarate was one of nine expert speakers who shared their views on a range of security and enforcement topics (Credit: MHA)

SINGAPORE: Senior enforcement officials from around the world identified cyberterrorism as a key concern during an inaugural international security sharing programme organised by the Home Team Academy.

The Phoenix International Programme, which ran from Mar 5 to 8, saw 18 officials from 12 countries discuss security threats and the ways to effectively manage them.

READ: Commentary: How can Smart Nation Singapore better prepare for digital warfare?

READ: Commentary: Here's how to win the cybersecurity arms race

One of the keynote speakers at the event was a former senior security advisor during the Bush administration between 2005 and 2009. 

Mr Juan Zarate, who was also the former deputy assistant to the former US president George W Bush, spoke about how countries are increasingly dependent on cyberinfrastructure to connect and run economies.

This has created vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit, he said.

Mr Juan Zarate was a former senior security advisor during America's Bush administration between 2005 and 2009. He was also the former deputy assistant to the president. ​​​​​​​

"The reality is we are going to continue to see cases of cyberbreaches, hacks, exfiltration of data and even destruction of systems, it’s inevitable,” Mr Zarate said. 

“That said, we can continue to do more. A key dimension in security in the 21st century security model will be how public and private sectors collaborate much more dynamically, much more in real time, to actively defend key systems and data against the kinds of sophisticated attacks we have seen and continue to see."


Singapore has not been spared from cyberattacks in its quest to become a Smart Nation. 

Last June, 1.5 million SingHealth patients’ personal data were stolen in a cybeattack.

READ: Cyber espionage group Whitefly behind SingHealth hack: Symantec

READ: MINDEF to recruit 300 cybersecurity experts, opens cyber training school

But Mr Zarate said that Singapore has done uniquely well in its approach to cyberdefence.

“It’s been thoughtful in how it thinks about its security,” he said. 

“It’s not a knee-jerk reaction. Whether it’s a terrorist incident or a cyber incident in the past, the ability of the authorities to take a step back and reflect on what the strategy, process and decision making should be, and to do it in a rather methodical way is pretty unique to Singapore. 

"The US and UK do a good job, but Singapore is always thoughtful.”

However, Mr Zarate said there are certain aspects in cyberterrorism that Singapore struggles with, which is similar to what other countries are facing.

“We’re facing a cyberarms race where barriers to entry for the bad guys are very low, and the resource and requirements for authorities to defend systems and the private sectors are very high. 

"That’s common around the world. How to think about defensive systems in the private sectors hands, and how government and private sector interact in an active defense model is an international debate happening around the world.”

Mr Zarate, who is currently the chairman and co-founder of Financial Integrity Network, an advisory firm that helps companies strengthen their financial integrity in the global security environment, also spoke about emerging global security challenges and global terrorist financing strategies during the event.

Senior Assistant Commissioner Mr Adrian Quek, commander security command, Singapore Police Force, said that the programme was enlightening.

“It has provided us with an excellent platform and opportunity to network and forge closer ties with our regional and international counterparts, which is crucial in our fight against transnational security threats,” he said.


In his interview with the media, Mr Zarate also said that terrorism must not be allowed to become a flashpoint that triggers bilateral conflict.

Protests in Kashmir where violence continues to rage, with both India and Pakistan firing mortars and artillery over the Line of Control (LoC) frontier. (Photo: AFP/Tauseef Mustafa)

His comments come amid increased tension between India and Pakistan. The two nuclear-armed rivals have launched strikes at each other after February's suicide bombing in Kashmir - claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group - killed 40 Indian paramilitaries, escalating tensions.

Mr Zarate called for cool heads to prevail. "It’s incumbent on the Pakistanis to control terrorist groups that may be operating from their territory and may be attacking Indian interest." 

He added: "It’s incumbent on Indians not to overreact to what the terrorists may do. And it’s certainly incumbent on the international community and countries like United States to try and not only help in the terrorism domain but also to calm the tension."

Source: CNA/ad(aj)


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