Singapore seeks ASEAN cybersecurity standards as digital shift grows

Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 10 2018 12:55 PM

SINGAPORE - Singapore is seeking to establish regional standards and share best practices on cybersecurity with its Southeast Asian neighbors amid a growing digital shift in commerce and public services.

Speaking to journalists from the region here, several officials underscored the urgent need for stronger safeguards against cyber attacks as the city-state, among Asia’s most technologically advanced cities, reeled from an unprecedented hack of its state healthcare database, the worst it has seen.

Singapore Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran called on the Association of Southest Asian Nations to more closely cooperate on on cross-border protection of internet-based systems.

"We should find ways to find some common reference points and learn from each other. It’s a partnership thing, whether we can work with each other, support each other in capability-building," Iswaran said in an interview here Wednesday.

He said a similar discussion was going on in other platforms, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation for one, and that "there are standards being developed globally in terms of cybersecurity."

"And ASEAN should be working together to see what other ways we can harmonize our standards," Iswaran said.

"You’re only as strong as the weakest link in these matters. So the more we work together - that’s why I talked about common standards and so on- if we are able to raise our capability and bring it to a certain level, then the interconnectivity becomes one that we are more confident of. It cuts both ways,” he said.

Singapore Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran speaks to reporters about cybersecurity and trade in a briefing Tuesday, August 7, 2018 in Singapore. Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also emphasized the urgency with the rise of e-commerce in the region.

BMI Research data showed that online shopping in Southeast Asia is set to nearly double by 2021 at a projected $64.8 billion in the region’s 6 biggest economies (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) from $37.7 billion last year.

"As trade and finance payment systems go online, it becomes a very juicy target for cybercriminals even sophisticated cyberattacks to be launched,” he told reporters in a separate interview.

In another meeting, Ng Hoo Ming, Deputy Chief for Operations at Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency (CSA), cited how addressing cybersecurity requires an international approach.

"It is critical that we get cybersecurity right so that we do not all become victims, and our people can reap the full benefits that technology promises. Combating cyber threats requires close cooperation with our international and regional partners," said the official.

The city-state is host of this year’s ASEAN meetings and is also set to hold Singapore International Cyber Week in September, gathering government officials and private sector partners from around the world.

He said such an event helps create a platform for the region to "come up with a very ASEAN approach to cybersecurity."

"What we’re trying to do is working with our partners to create the framework so that we have a way to work together on these projects over many years to come," Iswaran said.

During a meeting here in April, ASEAN leaders issued a statement on cybersecurity cooperation in a bid to address the borderless threat.

In it, ASEAN member-states reaffirmed "the need to build closer cooperation and coordination… on cybersecurity policy development and capacity-building initiatives" and the "development of a peaceful, secure and resilient rules-based cyberspace that will contribute to continued economic progress, enhanced regional connectivity within and improved living standards across ASEAN."