Singapore’s growing cyber security influence in ASEAN

At a recent event marking the launch of Trend Micro’s regional headquarters in Singapore this week, the company’s executives cited Singapore’s vision and influence over ASEAN in cyber security matters as one of the reasons for choosing the city-state as its regional hub.

Yet, it was only in 2015 when the government set up the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), about two years after a series of high-profile defacements of Singapore websites – including that of the prime minister’s office – that cyber security was cast into the spotlight in Singapore.

How then, did Singapore go from not having a central agency to coordinate cyber security efforts that were taking place across various security agencies, to becoming a regional thought leader that has been attracting cyber security firms to invest more in the city-state?

Having the willpower and foresight to bring together planning and development functions related to cyber security across the government under a single agency in the prime minister’s office certainly helps, but the impetus lies in Singapore’s highly connected economy and pervasive use of technology in critical sectors like financial services.

Not acting fast enough to put cyber security among the top of the national agenda would have negative impact on investor confidence and the economy, given that Singapore is a regional business hub where many multinational companies have based their Asian headquarters.

That in turn drives greater demand for cyber security expertise at all levels, turning Singapore into a top magnet for such talent in both public and private sectors, and propelling Singapore into its cyber security leadership position in ASEAN.

A more cyber secure ASEAN is good for all member states, including Singapore. Besides supporting efforts by ASEAN countries, dialogue partners and various CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) mechanisms to boost cyber security in the region, Singapore has also been running the annual ASEAN CERT Incident Drill for more than a decade.

In addition, Singapore plays a facilitating role as the Voluntary Lead Shepherd under the auspices of the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime/ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime.

In 2016, it invested S$10m in the ASEAN Cyber Capacity programme to enhance the region’s cyber security capacity and capabilities, and currently hosts the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation, a key node in Asia to support international cyber crime-fighting operations and build regional capacity to counter cyber crime.

Singapore’s influence in cyber security will continue to grow over time, not only in ASEAN but also on the international stage. As a testament to that, CSA’s CEO David Koh was conferred the first Billington Cyber Security International Leadership Award in March 2018 for his leadership in cyber security and contributions in strengthening cyber security in Singapore.

Koh has also made significant contributions towards shaping international and regional cooperation on cyber norms of behaviour and cyber capacity building. Under his leadership, Singapore was ranked number one in the International Telecommunication Union’s Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) for 2017.

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