New Defense Training Puts Singapore’s Cyber Challenge Into Focus

Announcements last week spotlighted some of the ongoing activity by the Southeast Asian state in the cyber defense realm.

New Defense Training Puts Singapore’s Cyber Challenge Into Focus
Credit: Marcus Spiske on Unsplash

Last week, Singapore announced a number of ongoing developments that it was undertaking with respect to the cyber defense domain. Though the announcements were with respect to just a few of the many initiatives that the Southeast Asian state has been undertaking in recent years, they nonetheless spotlighted some of the ongoing activity in the cyber defense realm.

As I have observed previously in these pages, Singapore has long been paying keen attention to developments in 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. The Singapore government itself has experienced breaches over the past few years, including a string of publicized attacks that targeted government agencies and government-linked institutions, including the defense ministry in 2017 as well as its health system SingHealth in 2018.

Amid this ongoing cyber challenge, the city-state has begun unveiling a series of initiatives to boost cybersecurity, including creating new institutions, training cybersecurity personnel, and collaborating more with the private sector and other regional actors as well. Indeed, just earlier this month, Singapore officially added a digital pillar to its wider military thinking in yet another development that reinforced the recognition of the importance of the cyber realm (See: “The New Defense Pillar in Singapore’s Military Thinking”).

Last week, Singapore’s response to its ongoing cyber challenge was in the headlines again with official announcements related to a number of initiatives. On the sidelines of an Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defense (ACCORD) visit to Stagmont Camp, hosted by Senior Minister of State for Defense Heng Chee How, there were announcements made on the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) cyber defense response. This included new initiatives with respect to people and technology in addition to the current entities involved in the cyber realm, such as the Defense Cyber Organization, the SAF’s military networks and systems, and the Defense Science and Technology Agency.

Among the announcements made in the people and technology aspects of the SAF’s cyber defense capabilities was the official commencement of a new cyber defense institution and the start of two new cyber expert schemes. With respect to the institution, per Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), the Cyber Defense School (CDS), which was initially established back in 2018 and is officially open, will be serving as the center for cyber defense training and education across MINDEF and the SAF. The CDS, along with the Cyber Defense Test and Evaluation Center (CyTEC) stood up in 2015, is responsible for the training and education aspect of Singapore’s cyber policy, including developing courses and workshops and strengthening cyber awareness and cyber hygiene across the institution.

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The CDS will also be expanding existing training and education efforts to cover the new cyber expert schemes that were announced: the uniformed Command Control, Communications, and Computers Expert (C4X) vocation for military personnel and the Defense Cyber Expert (DCX) job specialization for non-uniformed personnel will help develop and train personnel to work together with full-time national servicemen (NSFs).

It is still early days in the development of these new initiatives, with CDS only publicly starting last year and the new schemes being developed in 2018 and into the rest of 2019 as well. But MINDEF has said that the plan is to recruit about 300 personnel under these new cyber expert schemes, including operational roles such as cyber incident response, network monitoring, vulnerability assessment, and penetration testing, as well as staff appointments like cyber policy formation and long-term capability development. Getting closer to that goal will be important if the SAF and MINDEF are to achieve the goal of developing a world-class cyber workforce that can help strengthen Singapore’s existing cybersecurity ecosystem.