Mindef, SUTD join hands to build defences against cyber attacks

With the growing threat of cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) is seeking to tighten its defences by further training its experts and studying the methods employed by hackers.

It is doing so through a partnership with the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) to strengthen collaboration in several areas, including research and technology, threat modelling and training, Mindef said yesterday.

A memorandum of understanding on operational technology security for critical infrastructure was signed by defence cyber chief Brigadier-General (BG) Mark Tan and SUTD associate provost for research and international relations Yeo Kiat Seng.

The signing took place at the university on the sidelines of a two-week cyber-security exercise co-organised by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and SUTD, called the Critical Infrastructure Security Showdown.

Mindef said that recent cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, such as fuel pipelines and power distribution systems, are "stark reminders of the increasingly sophisticated cyber threats that countries face".

"The MOU underscores Mindef's and the Singapore Armed Forces' commitment to build up cyber-security expertise and capabilities against potential operational technology cyber threats."

Operational technology (OT) systems include computer systems designed to be deployed in critical infrastructure, such as power, water, manufacturing and similar industries.

Such infrastructure overseas has been hit by hackers recently. Colonial Pipeline, which supplies about 45 per cent of fuel used on the east coast of the United States, was hit by a ransomware attack in May.

That same month, a cyber attack on Brazilian food giant JBS forced the closure of all its beef plants in the US.

OT infrastructure and enhancements have been used in projects such as energy-efficient buildings and the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Smart Airbase, said Mindef.

The agreement is expected to cement collaboration between Mindef/SAF and the SUTD iTrust Centre for Research in Cyber Security in several areas.

The iTrust centre will allow Mindef to test cyber-defence measures and better understand vulnerabilities in OT systems. The centre will provide training and training infrastructure, and cyber exercises will be conducted.

Both parties will also analyse emerging OT attacks and study the tactics, techniques and procedures employed by attackers.

Joint scholarships may be awarded to selected personnel under the Command, Control, Communications and Computers Expert vocation for undergraduate and postgraduate studies to develop deep expertise, said Mindef.

The vocation was introduced in 2019 to develop a highly skilled cyber force to guard defence systems and networks.

BG Tan said: "Mindef/SAF recognises the importance of working with key partners like SUTD to keep pace with the latest developments in cyber-security research and technology."

Professor Yeo said the iTrust centre's state-of-the-art critical infrastructure test beds enable complex simulations of cyber attacks and the development of defences.

"Under the MOU, we will also help to conduct research and groom the next generation of cyber experts who can help defend our nation's critical infrastructure."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2021, with the headline 'Mindef, SUTD join hands to build defences against cyber attacks'. Subscribe