Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean at the Cyber Youth Singapore Re-Launch event on 29 March 2022.
Building a Secure Digital Singapore Together
Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State,
Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State,
Mr Ben Chua, President and CEO of CYS
Mr Emil Tan, Chairman of the CYS Board of Directors
Ladies and gentlemen
I am very heartened and inspired by the energy and passion our youths have for the digital future.
I am pleased to join all of you here today to relaunch Cyber Youth Singapore. Despite all the challenges from COVID-19 last year and the year before, CYS has made significant contributions to our local cybersecurity ecosystem. I look forward to CYS’ contributions in the coming years with your re-launch.
Cybersecurity Underpins a Sustainable Digital Future
Cybersecurity is key to a sustainable digital future. Most of you here are digital natives and are well-aware of the benefits that digitalisation brings. In the last years, in particular, this has been reinforced many times over. Working from home, or indeed anywhere, learning new skills, staying in touch with our friends, catching up on the news, and ordering food, especially if you have to go into isolation; all these activities are now commonplace not just for the young but even for the not-so-young like myself.
Digitalisation has also powered productivity and economic growth. Between 2016 and 2020, around 10,000 new ICT jobs for professionals have been created each year. During the Circuit Breaker, many brick-and-mortar businesses had also relied on digital technologies to keep their businesses going. Many are now building on their online presence to expand their businesses.
But where there are opportunities, there are also threats and risks. Last year, Singapore observed a 73% increase in reported data breaches and ransomware incidents, compared to the year before. Cybercrime accounts for almost half of all crime in Singapore today. Online scams have also grown exponentially. Have we become worse? It is not that we have become worse; it is just that digitalisation is so much more pervasive. So many more of us are using it, and it reaches out into every corner of our society in everything that we do.
We are also monitoring the international cyber situation very closely. We have seen how a cyberattack on February 24 on a major satellite communications provider had caused widespread outages in remote access in several countries across Central Europe. Essential services can be disrupted remotely by malicious actors from anywhere in the world. The more we digitalise, the greater the surface area that is exposed to threats in cyberspace.
To realise the potential of our digital future, we need to invest in cybersecurity to ensure that digitalisation is trusted and reliable in the long run. Cybersecurity gives us the confidence to rely on digitalisation for the many things we have come to take for granted in the digital world. In the coming years, 5G and IoT will expand the scope and reach of digitalisation even further.
Cybersecurity is therefore integral to our Smart Nation ambition, and people are at the heart of our cybersecurity efforts. We need to work together to build:
a. Capabilities - for a skilled cyber workforce;
b. Communities - to connect people and ideas; and
c. Collaboration - for collective cyber defence.
First, capabilities. We build them by nurturing and grooming cybersecurity professionals. A strong cybersecurity workforce is the foundation to strengthen our cyber defences. I speak to people in the industry and all of them are saying we do not have enough people to do all the things that we need to do to protect our systems. So, one of the things we need to do is to make sure we have enough people –train them, nurture them, make them interested, bring them into the industry.
The Government has invested heavily in initiatives to develop our cybersecurity workforce. We have created opportunities for youths to learn more about cybersecurity through bootcamps and learning journeys organised by the Cyber Security Agency (CSA). We have facilitated the training and upskilling of non-cyber professionals for cybersecurity jobs, through programmes such as the Tech Skills Accelerator run by the Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA).
Support from industry and community partners has been critical. Since 2016, companies such as Ensign InfoSecurity, ST Engineering, and Singtel, have trained more than 800 cybersecurity professionals under the Cyber Security Associates and Technologists (CSAT) programme. Our local polytechnics and CYS were key partners in the organisation of the annual Youth Cyber Exploration Programme (YCEP), which have trained over 1,400 secondary school students in basic cyber skills in the past three years. There is nothing like having young people enthusing and bringing more young people into the community.
We welcome more enterprises and organisations to join us in this effort. Consider opening your doors for students, graduates, and professionals to gain experience in cybersecurity. Promote training and continual learning amongst your staff, so that they can hone their skills. This may require some investment on your part, but you will enjoy significant pay-offs in the longer term.
I am glad that youth groups like CYS are also actively involved and passionate about growing Singapore’s cyber workforce. Community groups like CYS provide an important platform for students and youths to enhance their knowledge and skills outside of school. I am very impressed that the student volunteers at CYS have taken the initiative to convene a roundtable amongst our tertiary institutions. I also congratulate CYS and JTC on the MOU that they are signing shortly. This is a significant milestone and I look forward to CYS and JTC’s joint contribution to our cybersecurity ecosystem.
Second, we need to build communities. Vibrant communities have the power to drive innovation by connecting people and ideas. People bump into each other, they share opinions or projects they are working on, and one thing leads to another. Sometimes, that is when the idea for the next big thing is born. Strong communities enable such spontaneous interactions and connections.
Building strong communities for innovation is absolutely essential in the tech industry. This is so as well for cybersecurity. Attackers are constantly evolving their methods, and exploiting new technologies to compromise our systems. As defenders, we must keep pace and try to be at least one step ahead.
Communities facilitate continual learning and knowledge sharing, enabling cybersecurity professionals to stay up to date with the latest threats and techniques. Having a community to learn from and exchange ideas with is therefore incredibly valuable.
The Discord channel that CYS has set up is one example. Named the “Cyber Youth Collective”, the online community has become a platform for cybersecurity and non-cybersecurity students to seek advice and learn from one another. I understand that even our industry professionals have joined the Discord channel to share career advice with students and youths.
From 2024, much of such innovation and learning will be anchored in our new Punggol Digital District (PDD) – Singapore’s first tech-enabled Smart District. PDD will house digital leaders in key growing tech sectors such as Blockchain and Fintech, and cybersecurity. The Government Technology Agency (GovTech), CSA, many of our most prominent professional associations in the cybersecurity and tech sectors will all be in PDD.
With the co-location of businesses, associations and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) in PDD, our youths, businesses and policymakers will be able to come together as one community for a stronger and more vibrant cybersecurity and tech ecosystem.
Lastly, we need to strengthen collaboration for our collective defence. With the pervasiveness of digital technologies, cybersecurity cannot only be the responsibility of the Government, cybersecurity professionals or cybersecurity firms. We cannot fold our arms and say: you are responsible for this, and you are responsible for that. So what am I responsible for? I think the answer is we are all responsible for this.
It is important that all individuals and organisations develop strong security instincts in the digital world, just as they do in the physical world. In the physical world, we make sure our doors are properly locked. If the locks are faulty, we replace them immediately, knowing that until we do, our valuables are vulnerable to loss or being stolen, and our homes are open for strangers to come in, walk around and ransack, and leave their mark. And yet in the digital world, many are comfortable to often ignore software updates or use weak passwords. These are human frailties. This is a problem even among young people, who should be and are more tech-savvy.
The Government has therefore been working closely with partners to raise the baseline level of cybersecurity awareness in our wider population. The Cyber Security Awareness Alliance comprising representatives from the government, industry and non-profit organisations, was formed in 2008 to promote awareness and enhance adoption of good cybersecurity practices. The Alliance has grown over the years with representatives from large enterprises such as Microsoft coming on board as well.
CYS has been an important partner. CYS is not only a member of the Alliance, but has also worked with various Government agencies such as MINDEF, IMDA and CSA to strengthen digital security and resilience among young people. One example is the Surf Safe Campaign, which is supported under the Digital for Life movement. Under the campaign, CYS has catalysed valuable public-private partnerships, bringing together industry players such as Google, Tik Tok, Twitter, and non-profits such as Samaritans of Singapore.
Apart from raising the baseline level of cyber awareness amongst the public, it is also important for cybersecurity professionals to work with developers to build secure systems. Cybersecurity should be an essential component of any technological solution and not just an add-on. By creating products that are secure-by-design, engineers and developers can play an influential role in securing our digital future.
One company that is working towards that vision is MicroSec, a local cybersecurity solutions company. Supported by CSA’s Innovation Call grant, MicroSec built a light-weight solution that allows organisations to easily secure the communications between their IoT devices and their backend system. The solution has been procured by the Housing and Development Board’s vendor to pilot Smart Home solutions in the Northshore HDB estate in Punggol to protect 13,000 smart sockets and 3,000 smart gateways. We do have companies in our own local ecosystem with good ideas forging into the new spaces where our digital world is taking us.
Capabilities, Communities and Collaboration are core to our efforts to build a secure digital Singapore. In particular, we need to groom and empower our young people, who will play a key role in our digital future.
I would like to thank CYS for the important work that you have done in rallying our youths for this important cause and grooming our future cyber leaders. My warm congratulations once again on your relaunch today. I look forward to your continued good work, and to seeing more of you leading us into a safe and secure digital environment for all of us.
Thank you very much and congratulations!
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