Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung officiating at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding for Cyber NSF Work-Learn Programme (Source: MINDEF).

MINDEF to tap NSF talent pool to bolster Singapore’s cyber defences

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Second Minister for Defence Mr Ong Ye Kung officiated the signing of the work-learn Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Cyber NSF Work-Learn Programme between the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF)’s Defence Cyber Organisation (DCO) and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) on Monday (12 February).

The MOU was signed by MINDEF’s Deputy Secretary (Special Projects) and Defence Cyber Chief Mr David Koh, and Deputy President (Academic) and Provost, SIT Professor Loh Han Tong.

Mr Ong also announced the Cyber NSF Scheme, which all full-time national servicemen (NSFs) in cyber vocations will now come under, and the Cyber Specialist Award, a short-term contract which will be offered to selected cyber NSFs who demonstrate the requisite aptitude and skill, and who meet the stringent selection requirements for the award.

The MOU between DCO and SIT is the first work-learn programme between MINDEF and an education institute where NSFs are sent for academic upgrading while employed in an operational role, which will equip them with the necessary skills to better perform their duties.

It is said to be made possible through close collaboration between MINDEF, the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) , SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) and SIT.

According to MINDEF, this work-learn programme will be applicable to NSFs who are recipients of the Cyber Specialist Award. Award recipients will also attend professional courses and attain professional certifications.

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen and Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung had earlier announced the new cyber vocation during the 2017 Committee of Supply Debate. These servicemen will now come under the Cyber NSF Scheme, which will allow NSFs to be deployed in cyber roles in critical areas for Singapore’s defence.

“Why we did that was in recognition that today, hybrid warfare (and) unconventional threats have become the norm. Every country is preoccupied with this. As a result, we need to build up the capability through the cyber vocation,” Mr Ong said on having the new vocation.

According to the ministry, at the basic level, NSFs will be trained as Cyber Operators and tasked to conduct threat monitoring and assessment. Those with higher aptitude and skills, and who meet stringent selection requirements, will be offered the opportunity to take up the Cyber Specialist Award, which is a short-term contract on Regular service on top of their full-time NS.

The Cyber Specialists will undergo a work-learn programme with the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and earn professional certifications that will prepare them for more technically demanding cybersecurity jobs in MINDEF and the Singapore Armed Forces.

MINDEF stated that the cyber NSFs will be deployed in a range of operational roles within the cyber domain. These roles are split into four broad areas, which are cybersecurity monitoring, threat assessment and response, vulnerability audit  and penetration testing, and malware analysis  and cyber forensics.

“Cyber NSFs will be deployed based on their aptitude and organisational need,” it noted, adding that the scheme will be launched via a pilot trial for those enlisting in the second half of 2018.

The ministry will take in about 60 cyber operators, and another 50 to 60 cyber specialists for the pilot batch. For subsequent batches, the annual intake of cyber operators will remain the same, while cyber specialists will increase to about 80 to 90.

It then noted that during their NSF period, Cyber Operators will receive NSF allowance. Cyber Specialists will receive Regular pay under the terms and conditions of the short-term contract. As they progress in their training and operational roles, they could be promoted up to First Sergeant (1SG).

In addition, these award recipients will also have the opportunity to upgrade their skills through internationally-recognised cybersecurity professional courses (e.g. Sysadmin, Audit, Network and Security (SANS) Institute  Courses).

Mr Ong said that the new Cyber NSF Scheme was a meaningful breakthrough. He added that it was a marrying of three trends.

“One, the operational requirements of the Singapore Armed Forces to defend our country better, especially in the area of cyber defence. Two, the rise of a young group that is au fait with cyber defence, and we want to tap and leverage on their expertise. And three, an evolution of teaching methods in all our universities and Institutes of Higher Learning, that it is not just lectures but also hands-on experience,” he stated.

Source: MINDEF.