Mindef offers new short-term cyber-specialist scheme for NSFs to boost cyber-security fight

Soldiers at a demonstration to show how they would handle cyber threats at the Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre on Dec 12, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung (centre) officiating the signing of the MOU between Mindef's defence cyber chief David Koh (right) and Singapore Institute of Technology provost Loh Han Tong. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Defence will train full-time national servicemen who have an aptitude for cyber security to become elite cyber defenders in the regular service, with a new short-term contract scheme.

From Monday (Feb 12), any national service pre-enlistee enlisting from the second half of 2018 onwards, when the pilot scheme starts, can apply for it.

If selected, they will serve a total of three or four years in uniform, earning regular service pay after first completing a minimum period as full-time national servicemen (NSFs).

These cyber specialists will take classes under the Singapore Institute of Technology's (SIT) cyber-security degree once a week, while being deployed in advanced cyber-defence roles, such as penetration testing, cyber forensics and malware analysis. The classes will earn them academic credits for an SIT degree later.

Mindef will give out between 50 and 70 of these Cyber Specialist Awards for the first year. This will increase to between 80 and 90 when the trial ends after the first year.

The aim of the award is to attract people with cyber-security expertise - an increasing need, given how cyber attacks are getting more frequent, and how skilled individuals with deep expertise make a critical difference in this domain.

The awards come under a new Cyber NSF Scheme, which also includes NSF cyber operators performing more basic roles, such as round-the-clock threat monitoring and analysis. There will be about 60 operators a year in this role.

Personnel deployed in cyber-security roles since last year are also considered operators under this scheme.

The cyber vocation was announced during last March's parliamentary debate on Mindef's spending plans.

On Monday, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung was at the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Mindef and SIT.

He said the Cyber NSF Scheme was a marrying of three trends.

"One is the operational requirements of SAF to defend our country better, especially in the area of cyber defence. Two, the rise of a young group that is actually very au fait (well versed) with cyber defence and we want to tap and leverage their expertise."

"Three, an evolution in teaching methods in all our institutes of higher learning, where it is not just pure lectures but also hands-on experience at the same time," he said.

The MOU was signed at the SIT campus in Dover Road by Mr David Koh, deputy secretary (special projects) at Mindef, and Professor Loh Han Tong, SIT's deputy president (academic) and provost.

The collaboration also involves the Cyber Security Agency and SkillsFuture Singapore. The agreement is the first work-learn programme between Mindef and an educational institute where NSFs can attend academic courses while employed in an operational role.

Citing how many countries, including Singapore, have faced more frequent cyber attacks with increased complexity in recent years, Mr Koh said: "The proliferation of cyber attacks is a clear sign that cyberspace is the next battlefield, and cyber security is a national imperative."

"Unlike other traditional battlefield domains where platforms and weapon systems are mainstay capabilities, the critical success factor in the cyber domain is highly skilled and talented individuals with deep cyber capabilities," added Mr Koh, who is also defence cyber chief.

Applicants will have to go through a selection process that includes testing their skills and aptitude in cryptography, security architecture and application security. They will also undergo psychometric tests and complete practical problem-solving scenarios.

The academic credits the cyber specialists gain during their service can be used to contribute to degree requirements in a relevant course.

For instance, a cyber specialist who signs up for the three-year scheme will need another three years to complete the cyber-security degree offered by SIT. Four-year scheme cyber specialists earn 50 per cent of academic credits required to graduate and need to study for only two more years.

Prof Loh of SIT said there has been an increase in the number of students applying for the degree over the past three years, and the university has increased its enrolment by about 10 per cent for the intake this year.

The award recipients will get to go for professional certifications such as Sysadmin, Audit, Network and Security (Sans) Institute courses, and could be promoted up to the rank of First Sergeant as they progress in their training.

NSFs in the cyber vocation will be deployed in a range of operational roles in four broad areas within the cyber domain. These are: cyber-security monitoring; threat assessment and response; vulnerability audit and penetration testing; and malware analysis and cyber forensics.

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