PARLIAMENT

Telcos' networks resilient despite outages: Yaacob

Disruptions cannot be fully eliminated; focus also on speedy service recovery, he says

Singapore telcos' networks are as resilient as those of their international counterparts, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

He cited how Singtel and StarHub's broadband networks were available more than 99.9 per cent of the time in the past year, as required by regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

In recent months, both Singtel and StarHub suffered outages, prompting MPs to question the resiliency of their networks, including towards cyber attacks.

Responding in Parliament to Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) on what caused Singtel's fibre broadband outage last month, Dr Yaacob said: "We have no reason to believe there was a cyber attack but we will continue to monitor the situation."

Preliminary findings indicate Singtel's 24-hour islandwide outage last month was due to a technical failure at its server, which assigns Internet protocol addresses to end-users' modems to provide them with a Web connection.

Dr Yaacob also said service outages cannot be eliminated completely. Rather, the focus should also be on ensuring speedy service recovery in the event of a disruption.

ALL HAVE PART TO PLAY

We need everyone within the value chain, businesses and even consumers like ourselves to put in place some cyber-hygiene practices at home and at our workplaces.

DR YAACOB IBRAHIM, Minister for Communications and Information

Singapore's Cyber Security Agency (CSA) will continue to work with the private sector to mitigate any disruption, he added.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) asked if there were plans to tighten regulations to prevent network disruptions.

Dr Yaacob said IMDA takes a "serious view" of all outages and will regularly review the Telecom Service Resiliency Code, which spells out the minimum requirements for telecommunications service availability and was last revised three months ago.

Breaching these requirements - such as a loss of 70 per cent or more of a telco's Internet bandwidth - may result in a fine ranging from $15,000 to $270,000 for every 30 minutes of outage.

While investigations are ongoing for two disruptions linked to StarHub's broadband network last October, Dr Yaacob assured the House that CSA is "on top of the situation".

Both incidents lasted about two hours each and were said to have been caused by cyber attacks - a first for telcos in Singapore.

The two waves of attacks were said to have come from StarHub customers' malware-infected Web devices such as speakers, routers and webcams.

The hacker-hijacked machines were then directed to overwhelm StarHub's systems in what is known as a distributed denial-of- service attack.

The users would have had no clue this was happening in the background.

This prompted Dr Yaacob to remind the House that cyber defence requires everyone's cooperation.

"We need everyone within the value chain, businesses and even consumers like ourselves to put in place some cyber-hygiene practices at home and at our workplaces."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline 'Telcos' networks resilient despite outages: Yaacob'. Print Edition | Subscribe