On February 28, Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF) disclosed that it had experienced the first breach of its Internet-connected system, resulting in the theft of personal data of hundreds of employees. Though the impact of the breach was quite limited, it nonetheless highlighted the difficulties Singapore faces in confronting its growing cyber challenge (See: “Singapore Reveals Cyber Attack on Defense Ministry”). And it has already spurred the city-state to further ramp up its war against cyber threats.
Singapore is no stranger to cyber attacks. As I have pointed out before, it had already been paying keen attention to the cyber domain as a developed, highly-networked country that relies on its reputation for security and stability to serve as a hub for businesses and talent. With the Singapore government itself experiencing breaches over the past few years, the city-state has begun unveiling a series of initiatives to boost cybersecurity, including creating new institutions, training cyber security personnel, and collaborating more with the private sector and other regional actors as well (See: “Singapore’s Cyber War Gets a Boost”).
But the MINDEF breach, along with the growing incidences of cyber attacks around the world from those on Ukraine’s power grid all the way to the U.S. electoral process, has made it clear that the challenge is likely to rise even further in the coming years, and that even more needs to be done in this regard.
There are already signs that Singapore is ramping up its cyber war in response. On March 3, Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen told parliament that the city-state would set up a new cyber command to help defend it against threats in the cyber realm. The Defense Cyber Organization (DCO), Ng said, will be comprised of four major formations and in the steady state will have about 2,600 soldiers, a significant buildup from where the city-state is now.
In addition, Singapore is also creating a new cyberdefense vocation to ensure that it has sufficient manpower and expertise to fill up existing and new organizations like the DCO. According to Singapore’s Second Minister for Defense Ong Ye Kung, the city-state’s new cyber defenders will include full-time national servicemen but also those who are deemed operationally ready after a rigorous selection process that will include competitions, camps, and tests. That will no doubt help significantly boost the talent pool for national defense and for the city-state’s cyber industry more generally.
These efforts will not be without their challenges, and they will take time to bear fruit. And Singapore, like its partners, will have to continue to adjust and adapt along with the cyber threats that it faces. But the fact that we have already seen the city-state accelerate its ongoing cyber war is a clear indicator about how serious it is in its commitment to this new battlefront.