Photo from by Cyber Security Agency of Singapore's Facebook fanpage

Nikkei Asian Review names China as the suspect behind cyber-attack on SingHealth

The prestigious Nikkei Asian Review has named China as the suspect behind last month’s cyber-hacking of Singapore’s SingHealth computer systems (‘Suspected China cyberhack on Singapore is a wake-up call for Asia‘, 21 Aug).

Personal information of some 1.5 million patients was stolen from SingHealth, Singapore’s largest public healthcare provider, in July last month.

“I am personally affected, and not just incidentally,” PM Lee wrote on his Facebook page. “The attackers targeted my own medication data, specifically and repeatedly.”

It was reported that the Singaporean authorities know who was behind the attack but remain tight-lipped. At a press conference after the cyber-attack, Cyber Security Agency Chief David Koh said, “We are not able to reveal more because of operational security reasons.”

On Tuesday (21 Aug), Nikkei Asian Review published a news report naming China as the country suspected behind the cyber-attack on Singapore. It quoted Fergus Hanson, head of the Cyber Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Mr Hanson said, “It certainly fits with a pattern of Chinese Communist Party cyberactivity.”

Beijing, he noted, has been accused of other major healthcare hacks in the U.S. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to Nikkei’s request for comment.

Matt Palmer of risk advisory Willis Towers Watson gave credit to the Singaporean authorities for detecting the cyber-hacking “in a matter of days”. Among Asia-Pacific governments, the median time from breach to discovery was 498 days last year, according to a survey by U.S. cybersecurity company FireEye.

Mr Palmer also said the SingHealth incident shows that even countries that take cybersecurity seriously face major risks, and would struggle to defend themselves against determined online adversaries. Attacks on Southeast Asian countries like Singapore serve as “a wake-up call globally,” he added.

Nothing in terms of reference to identify attacker

The government announced on 24 July that a four-member Committee of Inquiry (COI) has been convened to examine SingHealth’s cyber attack. Based on reports, it has been disclosed that certain hearings will be held behind closed doors due to the sensitive nature of some of the information which, if revealed to all and sundry could lead to further cyber attacks.  According to the terms of reference, there is nothing on the agenda which seeks to name or identify the culprit or source of the attacks.

China unhappy with PM Lee’s stand on South China Sea disputes

In recent years, China has been showing its unhappiness towards Singapore, particularly due to Singapore’s stand on the disputes over South China Sea.

A SCMP news report in Oct 2016 mentioned this (‘What’s really making Beijing angry with Singapore?‘):

“Chinese culture requires friends to help each other. In view of its traditional friendship with Singapore, Beijing hopes the island state will use its unique role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and its influence in the region to help China solve its disputes with neighbours (over South China Sea issue). At the very least it wants Singapore to remain neutral.

But Singapore’s gestures on the (Hague’s) ruling have dismayed Beijing. Singaporean officials have spoken repeatedly in support of the ruling, which Beijing rejects as ‘illegal’ and ‘none binding’. Not only has Singapore supported the ruling – it has made efforts to mobilise international pressure on China.”

In any case, after the 9 SAF Terrex vehicles were seized by Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, PM Lee appears not to comment about South China Sea disputes in public anymore.