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Above photo: Mr. David Koh announcing the MINDEF Bug Bounty Programme on the sidelines of his visit to CyTEC/ Credit: MINDEF Singapore

Above photo: Mr. David Koh announcing the MINDEF Bug Bounty Programme on the sidelines of his visit to CyTEC/ Credit: MINDEF Singapore

Selected white hat hackers invited to break into Singapore Ministry of Defence’s Internet-facing systems

Around 300 selected white hat hackers from around the world will have the opportunity to test major MINDEF (Ministry of Defence, Singapore) Internet-facing systems for vulnerabilities (or "bugs"), and will receive rewards (or "bounties") for doing so, as part of the MINDEF Bug Bounty Programme. This is the first time a Singapore Government agency is engaging in such an exercise. 

The Programme was announced by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF)'s Defence Cyber Chief, Mr. David Koh (he is also Chief Executive of Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency), on the sidelines of his visit to the Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre (CyTEC) earlier today.

White hat hackers are computer security specialists who break into protected systems and networks to test and assess their security. These hackers use their skills to improve security by exposing vulnerabilities before malicious hackers (known as black hat hackers) can detect and exploit them.

MINDEF has engaged HackerOne, a reputable international bug bounty company, to run the programme. The programme will be conducted from 15 January to 4 February 2018, involving eight selected Internet-facing systems. The firm was also engaged by the United States Department of Defense to run their bug bounty programme in 2016, which unearthed and resolved more than 138 unique vulnerabilities.

The SAF's (Singapore Armed Forces) operational systems, which are not Internet-facing, will not be included in the programme.

The eight Internet-facing systems involved in the programme are:

  1. MINDEF Website (Ministry of Defence website)
  2. NS Portal - e-Services for NSFs (National Servicemen Full-time) and NSmen (National Servicemen)
  3. CMPB Website (Central Manpower Base website)
  4. DSTA Website (Defence Science and Technology Agency website)
  5. eHealth Portal for MINDEF/SAF personnel for medical purposes
  6. Defence Mail - Public Internet email service for MINDEF/SAF personnel
  7. LearNet 2 Portal - Learning resource portal for trainees
  8. myOASIS Portal - NSmen administration portal

Hackers will be financially rewarded for disclosing valid and unique vulnerabilities to MINDEF, with more critical vulnerabilities receiving larger bounties. The reward can range from about S$150 to about S$20,000 based on previous programmes organised by HackerOne. The total amount paid out in rewards is dependent on the number and quality of the vulnerabilities discovered, and is expected to cost significantly less than hiring a dedicated commercial cybersecurity vulnerability assessment team.

The press release from MINDEF explains that Singapore is constantly exposed to the increasing risk of cyberattacks, and MINDEF is an attractive target for malicious cyber activity. As hackers with malicious intent find new methods to breach networks, MINDEF must constantly evolve and improve its defences against cyber threats.

Mr. Koh emphasised the importance of strengthening Singapore's cyber defences amidst this changing landscape and said that the programme, utilising crowdsourcing, is one such innovative and effective way of doing so.

He said, "This is the first time that MINDEF is launching such a bold programme… White hat hackers participating in this programme will be given the mandate to 'hack' MINDEF, to find bugs in our major Internet-facing systems… For each valid and unique bug that the hacker finds, he will receive a bounty."

Mr. Koh said that it is not possible to fully secure modern computer software systems, and new vulnerabilities are discovered every day. Hence, the need for such a programme. He added that due to the fast-changing cyber landscape, no agency can keep up by itself and even large companies use this effective and fast crowdsourcing approach.

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