Singapore vulnerable to dangers posed by “critical infrastructure failure” in Southeast Asia: IMDA board member, on recent cybersecurity breaches

Singapore is vulnerable to risks posed by “critical infrastructure failure” in the Southeast Asian region, particularly in terms of cybersecurity breaches, said Ayesha Khanna, a board member of the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA).

In an article published on Wednesday (6 Mar), Khanna, who is also the chief executive officer of Artificial Intelligence solutions firm ADDO, told The Edge Singapore in an interview that the Republic must adopt “a regional approach to protect ourselves and to help each other”.

“The best thing that any country can do is to share knowledge. To share expertise, best practices and framework successes with other cities, and – this is where diplomacy comes in – to persuade, encourage, and advocate for the better good of the region for everyone to take on [these best practices],” she elaborated.

Noting that the Government has invested heavily in building resilience against cybersecurity threats, going as far as to include cyber defence as “the sixth pillar of Total Defence”, Khanna said: “Cybersecurity is fundamentally a disaster, and we are working very hard to equip both businesses and government agencies with the expertise, and to also boost our deep defence against attacks.”

Khanna’s comments succeeded the series of cybersecurity breaches that has struck alarm amongst Singaporeans, from the infiltration of the SingHealth database to the HIV registry leak.

The Edge Singapore noted that a cybersecurity report by AT Kearney has found that South-east Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines “are being used as launch pads for cyber attacks” due to “vulnerable infrastructure, such as computers that can be easily infected for large-scale attacks, or have the potential to serve as a single point of attack to gain access to the hubs’ global connection”.

The international management consulting firm added in its report that “the absence of a unifying framework, policy preparedness, and institutional policy” have hampered efforts at buttressing cybersecurity across the region.

Singapore must have more partnerships with other South-east Asian nations due to geographical vulnerability to “climate and natural resource risks, including climate change, flooding, rising temperatures and drought”: Lauren Sorkin

Asia-Pacific managing director for 100 Resilient Cities Lauren Sorkin similarly opined that a significant part of Singapore’s resilience is dependent on the strength of its neighbours.

The definition of resilience, when couched in the context of urban planning and development, lies in a city or country’s ability to adequately assess and respond to its “stress points” such as “natural disasters or overburdened infrastructure”, as well as evaluating the strength of “individuals, communities and institutions”, added Sorkin.

The Edge Singapore quoted Sorkin as saying at a forum on building resilient cities that while “Singapore has incredible strength in the planning space”, the Republic’s food supply chain is susceptible to a breakdown should any disruption occur in the South-east Asian region, given that Singapore “imports almost 90 per cent of its food from 180 countries”, including Malaysia and Australia, from which Singapore sources the majority of its fruits and vegetables.

Citing statistics from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), The Edge Singapore reported that only a small percentage of food is produced locally, with 8 per cent of vegetables being grown in the Republic.

Only 8 per cent of fish is source in Singapore, in contrast to the 40 per cent of fish imported from Indonesia and Vietnam, the statistics added.

11 years ago in 2008, an average price increase of 12 per cent for food supply was recorded in Singapore as a consequence of droughts and a rise in oil prices, which increased the price of food import.

Singapore’s geographical vulnerability to “climate and natural resource risks, including climate change, flooding, rising temperatures and drought” despite being 16th in the world among 113 countries in terms of food security, according to Sorkin, is a strong reason for Singapore to build greater resilience in partnership with other countries in the South-east Asian region through initiatives such as the Asean Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response, of which Singapore has participated in.

“The never-rest mentality in Singapore is good, in the spirit of resilience, but it doesn’t end there,” said Sorkin.

“Resilience is when you look across all your risks and ask, ‘What is our shared risk?’, and in that, ‘What is the opportunity to solve multiple problems with a single solution?’

“That’s building resilience,” she concluded.

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