Indications of information warfare against Singapore, say two experts

The information warfare against Singapore involves an unnamed country that is trying to influence opinion through news articles and social media to legitimise its actions on the world stage, two experts said.
The information warfare against Singapore involves an unnamed country that is trying to influence opinion through news articles and social media to legitimise its actions on the world stage, two experts said.PHOTO: ST FILE

Some indicators have shown up in recent months that an information warfare against Singapore is under way, two experts said in separate closed-door sessions of a Select Committee hearing yesterday.

It involves an unnamed country that is trying to influence opinion through news articles and social media to legitimise its actions on the world stage.

Singapore, they added, is not yet fully prepared to handle such disinformation campaigns, which involve cyber attacks and undermining trust in institutions such as the police.

The two experts who spoke to the Select Committee for deliberate online falsehoods are Dr Gulizar Haciyakupoglu and Dr Damien Cheong, both research fellows at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

What they said was summed up in a media statement, in which it was sketched how information warfare is waged against some countries.

Dr Haciyakupoglu,who is from RSIS' Centre of Excellence for National Security, said countries that mount disinformation campaigns do not distinguish between wartime and peacetime, and between what is military and what is not. "Nothing is off the table."

Behind closed doors, she identified a country that has made efforts to infiltrate another society by using civilians in the latter. The Straits Times understands that the society referred to is not Singapore.

She said the efforts were made in three ways: Manipulating the media by using media professionals from mainstream media and content creators in social media; using a state agency to spread influence through businessmen, students, academics and other groups; and by carrying out cyber attacks with the help of that society's civilians.

These cyber attacks included malware attacks and invasions that caused a website to crash.

She noted that cyber attacks in the recent past had targeted sensitive ministries in Singapore.

Dr Cheong, from the National Security Studies Programme, said the goal of a state-sponsored disinformation campaign is to destabilise government and society. Singaporeans, knowingly or unknowingly, could be involved in such campaigns or share untruths without malicious intent.

He said Malaysia and Indonesia have cyber armies that could be deployed against Singapore directly or as proxies for other nations.

He called for public and private measures to prepare for a response. Substantial changes should also be made to laws to counter this threat.

Public hearings to fight online falsehoods: Read the submissions here and watch more videos.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2018, with the headline 'Indications of information warfare against S'pore, say two experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe