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Credit: CyberTech Asia

Credit: CyberTech Asia

DSTA Deputy Chief Executive on defence and national security opportunities for commercial companies

At CyberTech Asia 2018, Mr Hor Gar Yin, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) of Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), spoke about the evolving technology and cybersecurity landscape and the role of commercial companies in the defence and national security of Singapore.

Close dependencies of emerging technologies

According to Mr Hor, many of the Industry 4.0 technologies converge in key commercial trends that have close dependencies on each other. The high velocity of technology change is evident in the exponential growth in computing power per unit cost, which has then allowed electronics to become smaller, faster, cheaper and more powerful. Such exponential growth also results in the explosion of sensors in commercial technology. All these sensors provide multiple avenues and dimensions for data collection. Subsequently, with the emergence of big data and artificial intelligence (AI), the sheer volume of information and data that can now be collected necessitates the appropriate technology to make sense of it.

He pointed out that big data and AI also lay the foundation for two other trends: (1) advances in visualisation technology that allow us to display and present data in more creative and effective ways, and (2) the increase in demand for design innovation as a key principle in engineering.

Connectivity = Vulnerability

Mr Hor noted that with increased connectivity on a national scale, there is an increased dependence on technologies to support our way of life. As such, cybersecurity becomes increasingly more important in this technological landscape.

“We need to ensure that this dependence is not undermined by cyber threats, as trust in these systems is of utmost importance,” he said.

On a global scale, Singapore’s connectivity makes it more vulnerable to threats.

“Cyber threats are a real concern for Singapore, and they will continue to increase in sophistication. Advances in technologies such as social media, cloud services and virtualization have allowed many companies to operate successfully and efficiently. Similarly, these advantages are also being leveraged by terrorist or hacktivist groups to spread their propaganda and aid in the execution of their plans,” he explained.

Singapore’s challenges in the Cyber Olympics

 “The reality is that Singapore is firmly plugged into the global network and will face threats from the best-of-the-best. There are no physical boundaries in the cyber world.”

Mr Hor described such global cyber realm as “the Cyber Olympics”. To compete at the Cyber Olympics, Singapore is facing the following challenges:

(1)    Hyperconnected Systems

As systems are increasingly connected in new ways, the complexity of destructive threats will escalate as well. As these systems were originally independent, interfacing these systems may result in new threat vectors that were previously considered. Thus, there is a need to tackle and manage the increasing complexity, and to prepare the security of technologies as new developments arise. 

(2)    National security

On the national Security front, cyber plays a central role in the hybridization of warfare. It opens up non-kinetic options for aggressive engagements below the traditional threshold of war. It empowers individuals and non-state actors, and also allows for the destabilisation of government through info ops and propaganda on a divided population. 

(3)    Constant Disruption

Technology advancement brings constant disruption. If not managed properly, such constant disruptions could be very painful for many. Mr Hor cautioned that we must be ready for the social and economic implications of the constant disruptions.

(4)    Upskilling the workforce

A direct implication of the constant disruption is the need to upskill the workforce to prepare for the challenges ahead. Automation threatens to make jobs obsolete, and a challenge is in the equipping the workforce with new, relevant and marketable skills. There is also increasing need for competency and talent to keep up with the cutting edge of technology. 

(5)    Aging population

However, upskilling of the workforce is a challenging task, particularly against the backdrop of aging population and falling birth rates. Such demographic trends lead to dwindling manpower resources and increasing competition for talent. The reduced workforce will challenge Singapore’s ability to remain competitive in the coming years.

Leveraging technology to harness intelligence

Despite these challenges, Mr Hor also see the opportunities in exploiting technology to harness intelligence through the 3 main thrusts:

(1) Smart processes

Smart processes refer to the incorporation of new technologies to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of activities and approaches. An example of this is the introduction of virtual simulators for military training to reduce the land allocated for training activities in Singapore.

(2) Smart infrastructure

Smart Infrastructure makes the physical structures that enable our day-to-day lives to be more efficient and controllable.

“Next generation data centres and data-driven facilities management technologies allow us to improve space utilization, energy efficiency, and monitoring capabilities of our key buildings for cost and environmental impact reductions,” he said.

(3) Smart communities

Smart Communities focuses on connecting people with the information and technology to drive improvements in their quality of life, innovation, and decision making. It also promotes collaboration between previously disconnected spheres to boost real-time awareness and information sharing.

Mr Hor Gar Yin at CyberTech Asia (Credit: Nicky Lung)

Cyber as the foundation of smart initiatives

In all these smart initiative, cybersecurity is the core foundation.

“A breach in any of these systems could undermine the stability of the entire smart ecosystem. The consideration for cybersecurity must therefore be incorporated into the design right from the start of the development. This principal of cyber safe by design is one that DSTA regards highly,” he explained.

He continued to name several enablers that bolster Singapore’s cyber defences. They include: (1) adaptable governance and constant innovation to keep up with the evolving threats and challenges, (2) a skilled workforce to manage the technologies and (3) secured infrastructure.

On the cyber front, to prepare for global threats that can take place any time, Singapore also needs increased national cyber situation awareness, relevant and actionable cyberthreat intelligence, as well as constant monitoring and rapid response.

The role of commercial companies

These enablers also present opportunities for commercial companies to consider in their partnerships with defence and national security organisations. He emphasised that the commercial industry plays a very important role in defence and national security.

“It is very clear in recent years that the commercial industry drives the leading edge in technological developments. Defence organisations around the world have been adapting and adopting commercial technologies into their strategic capabilities, and DSTA is no different - we must engage the commercial industry for innovative and advanced cyber solutions,” he re-iterated.  

According to Mr Hor, some of the areas that DSTA is looking into working with the commercial community are: cyber threat intelligence, advanced malware analysis, autonomous systems security, cyber deception, dynamic defence technologies, and advanced analytics and machine learning-related technologies.

He concluded by saying that Singapore will need new and innovative solutions from the commercial industry to tackle the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and that he hopes companies will seize these partnerships and engagements.

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