Top skills needed for SAF's cyber defenders

Corporal Sim Tian Quan's duties include monitoring the SAF networks and responding to cyber incidents.
Corporal Sim Tian Quan's duties include monitoring the SAF networks and responding to cyber incidents.

He may not be in a combat unit, but Corporal Sim Tian Quan, 21, knows the work he does behind the computer is every bit as critical to the defence of Singapore.

After completing his Basic Military Training, the full-time national serviceman (NSF) was posted to the Cyber Defence Operations Hub to take on the role of a cyber security ops centre operator.

His duties include monitoring the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) networks and responding to cyber incidents. "My immediate task is to determine the extent of the attack... (and) consult with my superiors to devise a possible course of action to mitigate the attack," said Cpl Sim, who has a diploma in IT.

NSFs like Cpl Sim, and operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen), will be increasingly relied upon in the military's cyber defence.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) announced it will significantly increase its pool of cyber defenders to about 2,600. It has also created a new cyber vocation to tap the skills and talents of NSFs and NSmen.

The cyber defenders will need to possess "a high level of skill", given the increasing frequency and complexity of cyber attacks, Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung said yesterday. Speaking at the debate on Mindef's budget in Parliament, Mr Ong said the cyber defenders are entering "a very selective and demanding vocation", like that of commandos or naval divers.

Men who possess cyber skills will be "rigorously selected and identified" through established local cyber competitions, camps and activities, as well as selection tests before they are enlisted, he added. Part of the selection can take place in junior colleges, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education.

This would heighten students' interest and expertise in cyber and digital technology, said Mr Ong, who is also Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills).

"This will also increase the talent pool for national defence as well as Singapore's growing cyber industry," he said.

Cpl Sim's advice to NSFs who will become cyber defenders: "This is where we get to show our skills and talents... We definitely don't lose out to any other units."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Top skills needed for SAF's cyber defenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe