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Singapore's 5G network to get expert security team as cyberthreats widen

SINGAPORE will get a cybersecurity crack team for its telecom industry ahead of next year’s 5G network rollout, in a bid to have the new mobile technology secure from the outset.

The Telecoms Cybersecurity Specialist Team will draw experts from the public sector to look for weaknesses and test new tools, under a government work plan unveiled on Wednesday.

“You need to think about cybersecurity from the get-go,” Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran elaborated, at a press briefing.

The Ministry of Communications and Information is also doubling down on efforts to build the digital talent pipeline and advocate for Singapore’s cyberspace interests globally.

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David Koh, who heads the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA), has been named Singapore’s first representative to an international platform on laws and responsible state behaviour in cyberspace, with the 25-member United Nations Groups of Governmental Experts to start work in December.

Meanwhile, the CSA aims to reach 10,000 young people in the next three years - starting from secondary school - to train them in cybersecurity skills and explore careers in the industry.

The Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Education Ministry will also enrol all upper-primary pupils in a 10-hour computational thinking and coding course, from next year on, with the programme to be supplemented by an optional component in secondary school.

These education goals - which involve what Mr Iswaran called “critical skills that we should embed early” - came on the heels of the government’s recent estimate that Singapore will create 10,000 new jobs in infocomm technology over the next three years.

With the IMDA’s 5G industry consultation having closed on Tuesday, the regulator expects to release its response to the feedback and to start allocating 5G spectrum by year-end.

But the volume and speed of 5G data flows and the greater number of devices expected on 5G networks have emerged as security concerns for regulators and policymakers, alongside the threat of faster attacks that could even be enabled by artificial intelligence.

Now, the IMDA is setting up a specialist squad to focus on 5G security.

The team, expected to be ready by year-end, has also been tasked with tightening other parts of the digital connectivity infrastructure in future. It will work with government bodies such as the CSA, as well as industry partners such as telecom operators and equipment vendors.

The plan for the security specialist team came just a fortnight after an initial public funding commitment of S$40 million for 5G innovation. A strategic committee on telecom cybersecurity had already been set up in January, in the wake of a massive cyberattack on SingHealth’s patient database in 2018 - a data breach that was reportedly believed to be state-sponsored.

Cybersecurity had already been dubbed a research and development focus in the IMDA’s “5GSG” initiative, which was launched by Mr Iswaran in late June.

“The need is always there, even when you’re working on existing 4G and other kinds of infrastructure,” the minister noted at the briefing on Wednesday.

“But it’s confluence with the fact that we’re now beginning new infrastructure.”

While Mr Iswaran did not share specific threats or vulnerabilities, he said that “the bottom line is, we are an open economy - the whole value proposition on Singapore rests on our connectivity”.

“We want to be connected to global flows of data, global flows of information,” he said.

“So once you accept that as your base position, then it must be that your vulnerabilities, or what the people in the industry call the attack surface, must be larger…

“And so, I mean, just as a matter of, you know, fact, we will be exposed to these risks.

“And the more you collect data, for various kinds of purposes, whether it’s in the public sector or the private sector, the more that risk will arise. I mean, we’re not unique to this.”

Senior Minister of State for Transport and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary has previously said that “our personal data, at some point, needs to be collected, used, processed and shared” by organisations to benefit from digital innovation developments.