Financial institutions urged to beef up cyber security

Industry and government leaders urged financial institutions to step up cyber security efforts, even as they seek to innovate and digitise.

Mr Wee Ee Cheong, chairman of The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), said yesterday: "The consensus these days is that cyber attacks are inevitable. It is not if but when, and how frequent and significant the impact. So the focus is not just to prevent, but to detect and respond promptly to such attacks."

He was speaking at a technology risk conference by ABS and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), held in conjunction with the week-long Singapore Fintech Festival which ends today.

Mr Wee, who is also chief executive of United Overseas Bank, cited a McAfee report that estimated losses from cyber risks to be between US$300 billion (S$425 billion) and US$1 trillion a year, higher than losses from natural disasters, which averaged US$200 billion a year over the last 10 years.

He added that global spending on cyber security, an estimated US$81 billion this year, is forecast to double to about US$170 billion by 2020.

He said: "Advanced capabilities using machine learning and big data analytics to automate and proactively search and detect threats are becoming necessary for the industry to be agile in responding to cyber threats. Defence is no longer reactive but proactive."

Mr Wee said the banking industry has taken various steps to strengthen its cyber security capabilities since last year.

For instance, the ABS Standing Committee on Cyber Security, in collaboration with the MAS and Israeli Ministry of Economy, embarked on a study trip to Israel earlier this year. ABS also published a set of cloud computing guidelines for its members to ensure consistency and controls.

He also said the initiatives by the industry were in line with Singapore's cyber security strategy announced last month.

Mr Aubeck Kam, the Permanent Secretary for Communications and Information, said in his address that the financial sector is one of the 11 "critical information infrastructures", identified by the Government as one that needs to be secure.

"Even as the industry embraces innovative fintech solutions, I'd like to encourage the financial sector to give thought to how it can provide the right incentives and the structure, to keep security on top of the corporate and organisational agenda," he added.

At the end of the day, industry players have to work together to strengthen efforts in cyber security, said Mr Wee. "Whether it is fighting terrorism, financial or cyber crimes, sharing of intelligence and best practices, as well as coordination in monitoring and responses are crucial," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2016, with the headline 'Financial institutions urged to beef up cyber security'. Print Edition | Subscribe