Singapore, UN to cooperate on checklist for countries to implement cyber-security norms

With greater digitalisation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there have also been more incidences of cyber attacks. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Singapore will cooperate with the United Nations to come up with a checklist of the steps that countries will need to take to implement a set of norms on cyber security and responsible state behaviour in cyberspace.

Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, announcing this on Friday (Oct 9), underscored the importance of international cooperation in cyber security with digital transformation fast-tracked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"All our international partners have recognised the benefits of this digital advancement and the growth in the digital economy," he said at a press conference held over video conferencing.

"But equally they've also emphasised the need for international cooperation to ensure a secure and trusted digital environment that will support this progress."

The Norms Implementation Checklist continues efforts to encourage the adoption of a set of 11 voluntary, non-binding norms for responsible behaviour in cyberspace.

Proposed by the UN Group of Governmental Experts in 2015 and endorsed by UN member states, the norms state that a state should take appropriate measures to protect its critical infrastructure from infocommunications and technology threats, and should not knowingly support activity that intentionally damages critical infrastructure, among other things.

Mr Iswaran said the current effort to develop a checklist builds on a chart developed by Asean last year to implement the norms.

The chart will be refined and made applicable for more UN member states, taking into account their national priorities and capabilities.

He added that Asean will also share its experience and knowledge with the UN so that other countries, especially developing nations, can identify the steps they need to take to implement the norms, such as putting in place legal frameworks and building up sharing networks.

UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu said at the press conference that the checklist is an important step to help countries take things forward and move from statements of principles to the more practical and concrete steps of implementation.

With greater digitalisation forced upon the world by the Covid-19 pandemic, there have also been more incidences of cyber attacks.

Noting that some of these attacks have targeted healthcare institutions and research facilities working on vaccines, Ms Nakamitsu said in response to a question: "This is precisely why we need to work on the cyber-security issues really urgently, whether these are state- sponsored or not.

"Attribution of cyber attacks is one of the difficult challenges that we have. But I think the actors are actually multi stakeholders, they are obviously transnational criminal organisations, maybe individuals, and identifying those attacks, preventing them but also holding these people accountable will be part of very difficult challenges, especially in the cyberspace."

In Singapore, said Mr Iswaran, the number of phishing and ransomware attacks has gone up in tandem with the online space being used for the timely dissemination of important information about Covid-19.

Many of these phishing and ransomware attacks have been using Covid-19 as a hook, with scammers knowing that people are interested to find out what is happening amid the crisis.

He added that as governments work to address systemic risks, individuals and businesses too can play a part by practising good cyber hygiene such as being cautious before clicking on links that are "too good to be true" and using two-factor authentication to sign on to accounts.

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