Keynote Address by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the 5th Singapore International Cyber Week Opening Ceremony on 6 October 2020.
Ms Izumi Nakamitsu,
Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for
Disarmament Affairs of the United Nations,
Minister Vivian Balakrishnan
Minister S Iswaran
Ladies and gentlemen
Welcome to the 5th Singapore International Cyber Week (SICW)!
We are not only in the midst of a global pandemic; we are also at the centre of a digital revolution, one that would fundamentally change societies and economies around the world.
Change was already gaining momentum before COVID-19, and the pandemic accelerated the pace of change. Safe distancing measures to keep us safe from the virus pivoted us from physical activities to digital activities. Telecommuting, video calls, e-learning, online shopping, and digital payment surged. In fact, this hybrid conference that we are having for Singapore International Cyber Week is a very good example of it. Over here in the physical space, we observe safe distancing; and there are many more of you in cyberspace joining us for this. This would not have been possible without digital technology.
COVID-19 enabled us to see more clearly the value of digital technology for a wide range of economic and social activities. But at the same time, there are risks and downsides that we must address early, to ensure that its use is human and society-centric – that it improves our lives, accords with our values, and improves the global commons.
As a relatively nascent frontier, we will need to address issues like the ethical use of technology, user privacy, and a growing digital divide.
As more people go online, crime and threats have also gone virtual. Cybersecurity will be critical as we become more digital.
With the global order coming under pressure, we must avoid a “zero sum” approach to technology.
The best way to do so is to learn from one another and tap on each other’s strengths, so that we can build back better from this global crisis.
Today’s theme, “Cooperation in a Post-COVID Future”, is most timely and relevant.
Let me share how we can strengthen cooperation between countries, across businesses, and with our peoples.
First, let me touch on cooperation between countries. International cooperation is possible because we have a rules-based multilateral order.
This global order that has underpinned growth and peace since the end of the Second World War is under pressure.
Some countries have turned inwards as a result of domestic pressure, as the benefits of globalisation had not been evenly spread and some segments are hurting.
The growing tension between the US and China have added to these stresses.
But despite their flaws and limitations, the world will be a poorer place without multilateralism and globalisation.
This is why Singapore and many countries around the world are redoubling our commitment to a rules-based multilateral order.
We also hope that the US and China will eventually reach a new model of constructive cooperation, for almost all countries around the world do not want to have to choose sides in this strategic competition.
By working together, we can grow the global commons and sustainably benefit all countries and all our peoples.
One area of collaboration is the digital economy. It is one of the few growing sectors during the pandemic, and its longer-term growth potential remains strong and probably will be stronger.
Countries can better harness this potential by strengthening digital connectivity to enhance cross-border digital trade.
This is why Singapore strongly supports an open digital trade architecture, and is actively growing our network of Digital Economy Agreements with like-minded countries.
Countries must also work together to develop new governance frameworks for the digital commons, to enable innovation while preserving public trust.
One example is the ethical use of Artificial Intelligence.
Singapore contributed to this effort by launching the Model AI Governance Framework last year.
Building on this Framework, Singapore partnered the World Economic Forum this year to develop an implementation and self-assessment guide, for organisations to assess their AI governance practices.
International cooperation is especially important in cybersecurity, as this is the foundation for trust in digital exchange.
The United Nations remains central to multilateralism, where the interests of all countries, big and small, are taken into account, and where we work as a collective to safeguard our global commons, including cyberspace.
The United Nations convened two platforms in 2019 – the UN Group of Governmental Experts and the first-ever Open-Ended Working Group, to discuss issues such as the development of norms to operate in cyberspace, and how international law applies to cyberspace.
Singapore actively contributes in both fora, and we look forward to working with all countries and all of you on these important areas.
Strong international cooperation will provide a conducive environment for businesses to thrive. This brings me to my second point – how businesses can work together and make the best of opportunities in the digital arena.
A foundational step for economies is to raise the digital capabilities of our firms.
In Singapore, we launched the SMEs Go Digital programme in 2017 to help our broad base of small and medium enterprises digitalise. This includes basic cybersecurity solutions.
Many firms have come on board, and we hope more will join the digitalisation journey.
We are also committed to working with businesses, researchers and innovators globally to tackle common challenges.
Through our Open Innovation Platform, our businesses are collaborating with tech companies from around the world to develop innovative solutions in areas such as maritime and construction.
Our Global Innovation Alliance creates a network of like-minded partners in major cities to help businesses identify new opportunities and scale-up.
We are also seeing collaborations between companies and academia, not just within our shores but also across borders.
One example is the R&D collaboration between the National University of Singapore and Cisco Systems, in areas such as cybersecurity, AI and data analytics.
I have touched on what governments and businesses can do to cooperate and advance together in our digital journey. Ultimately, for digital solutions offered by companies to be widely adopted, consumers must have confidence in their transactions with the companies.
Globally more companies that deploy technology are recognising that they have a “cyber duty of care” to their consumers.
To fulfil this duty of care, companies can start by implementing the principle of Security-by-Design. This approach incorporates cybersecurity at every stage of product design and development, which results in more secure digital products and services.
Singapore will be launching the Cybersecurity Labelling Scheme with the goals of: raising the security posture of our IoT devices; and supporting consumers to make informed choices on the level of security of the devices they are buying.
Moving forward, we would like to work with other countries to establish mutual recognition for cybersecurity labelling and collectively advance the security standards of IoT devices worldwide.
Minister Iswaran will be providing more details later this week.
This brings me to my third point – how we can strengthen cooperation and partnerships with our peoples.
As the digital space grows, we must ensure that everyone is able to live, work and play in a digitalised society.
In our schools and post-secondary institutions, we are strengthening the learning of digital skills so that students can think, apply and create effectively in a digital world.
We are also raising digital literacy for vulnerable groups to ensure that they have access to digital opportunities.
In Singapore, we set up the SG Digital Office earlier this year to accelerate digital adoption in our community.
Through our Digital Ambassadors, we have helped more than 28,000 seniors learn new digital skills, including cybersecurity tips.
The community is also playing its part to bridge the digital divide. I am glad that many have stepped forward during COVID-19 to offer their support.
A safe cyberspace for Singapore and Singaporeans
Cooperation between countries, across businesses, and with our peoples will make all the difference as we build back better from COVID-19.
As we realise our vision to be a Smart Nation, we must further deepen our cybersecurity capabilities. Cyber-attacks, data breaches and cyber-crime are becoming more common globally.
Cybercrime in Singapore grew by more than 50% last year, compared to 2018. In fact, cybercrime now accounts for more than one-quarter of all crimes in Singapore. So, even though general crimes have come down, cybercrime unfortunately has gone up.
These trends do not mean that we backtrack on digitalisation. Instead, as the digital arena expands, we must redouble our efforts to strengthen our resilience to cyber threats.
I am pleased to announce that the Cyber Security Agency will launch our Safer Cyberspace Masterplan after this.
The Masterplan outlines the Government’s blueprint to create a safer cyberspace in Singapore, tackling the high-volume, day-to-day cyber threats faced by our people, businesses and organisations.
The Masterplan focuses on: upstream measures to secure Singapore’s core digital infrastructure; early detection to safeguard our activities in cyberspace; and empowering our people to build greater awareness and adoption of cyber hygiene practices.
The creation of a safer and more secure cyberspace is a collective effort between governments, businesses and individuals.
Cyberthreats transcend national boundaries, so strong international cooperation is important to mitigate these risks.
Cybersecurity will also require dedicated effort from industries, companies and the community.
Often, the targets of cyberthreats are individuals, and I urge everyone to stay vigilant.
In conclusion, the digital revolution will continue to accelerate.
As the digital space expands, we must strengthen cybersecurity through greater cooperation between countries, across businesses, and with our peoples.
It is incumbent on each of us here to do our part, and to mobilise our companies, our industries and our communities to embrace cybersecurity.
Conferences like the Singapore International Cyber Week provide opportunities for us to learn from each other and identify new opportunities for collaboration.
I wish everyone a fruitful week ahead, as we work towards growing and securing our digital future together!
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