SAF beefs up capabilities to quash cyber threats

File Photo: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen taking part in a focus group discussion to hear participants discuss ideas on how to strengthen the support and commitment for NS.

A new centralised, round-the-clock Cyber Defence Operations Hub has been established to create a more robust defence for Singapore's military networks, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said last Saturday.

Speaking in a media interview ahead of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day today, Dr Ng said the ops hub will help to develop expertise to combat evolving cyber threats, which can not only disrupt the military's front- and back-end systems, but civilian water and electricity grids as well.

The ops hub will carry out day-to-day cyber-defence operations to detect, identify, contain and neutralise cyber threats to the country's military networks. It will be able to quickly recover the networks, too, if needed.

"We are beefing up our cyber defence because that's the next (leap forward) that we see," Dr Ng said, when touching on the SAF's future developments.

He added that the issue of cyber attacks was a major point made at the Shangri-La Dialogue last month by United States Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The issue of cyber attacks is also a topic often discussed with defence chiefs of other nations, Dr Ng said. "All of us recognise they are increasing in frequency, potency and create great damage."

Dr Ng said the SAF's tail-end functions - such as logistics and engineering - and its front-end capabilities in quickly sensing and responding to threats, all depend on computer networks.

The ops hub will partner the Singapore Infocomms Technology Security Authority to keep abreast of the latest developments in cyber threats.

It will also draw on existing expertise from the SAF and Ministry of Defence, as well as the defence-technology community.

While he declined to reveal the size of the ops hub, Dr Ng said: "We are not starting from a blank slate... We are gathering everything together and putting it under one centralised agency."

During the interview, he also emphasised that a strong SAF cannot do without national service (NS).

"We don't have the option of not having NS, like some other countries. We have to be clear-eyed about it," Dr Ng said.

"Despite our falling fertility, we still have enough able-bodied national servicemen (NSmen) to generate a sizeable SAF force for years to come," he added.

He said it has been 45 years since NS was established, and this was a good time to "stock take" and "re-examine" it. So, the Committee to Strengthen National Service was set up.

The committee is gathering feedback from servicemen and the public via town-hall meetings and focus-group discussions.

On suggestions to give NSmen rewards like priority housing and medical subsidies, Dr Ng said the Government is continually looking into recognising and providing benefits to NSmen. Past examples include Safra clubhouses and vouchers.

But he said: "In terms of recognition and benefits for NSmen: Whatever we do, we must not dilute the values of duty, honour and country. It cannot be (on) a transactional basis - I give you benefits, therefore you serve. That just...adulterates the value system."

Dr Ng said the commitment to serve NS still remains strong, with many servicemen expressing their desire to become officers and commanders.

He said the ministry is looking into increasing the proportion of officers and commanders in SAF.

Although more details of the Cyber Defence Operations Hub were not revealed, Mr David Siah, Trend Micro Singapore's country manager, said today's cyber attacks extend beyond delivering malware, to establishing lasting footholds inside networks.

"Under the assumption that we will be compromised, organisations must improve detection capabilities that provide visibility of a breach, and establish an incident-response process and plan that can quickly mitigate and minimise the impact," he said.

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