SAF identifying and grooming cyber defenders

He was trained as a military policeman, but full-time national serviceman Velusamy Sathiakumar Ragul Balaji's talent with computers has landed him a new role.

Private Ragul, 18, who is six months into his national service, will soon be transferred to a new post as a cyber defender, responsible for guarding military networks against cyber attacks.

He was talent-spotted by the Defence Ministry (Mindef) after his team emerged as one of the winners at a cyber-security camp for junior college and tertiary students organised last month.

Mr Ragul, who picked up programming as a hobby, is thrilled with his new role. He had heard of the cyber-defence role before enlisting. "It is definitely something I have been looking forward to, even before NS."

His change in post underscores the push by Mindef to identify and groom national servicemen to become cyber defenders, as the threat of cyber attacks on Singapore's military networks grows.

Besides plans to build a corp of about 2,600 cyber defenders - regulars and national servicemen - in the next decade, a new Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) command will also be formed to coordinate the running of the military's networks and response to cyber attacks.

The SAF C4 Command, which will be led by a commander of brigadier-general level, will be inaugurated in November, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told reporters in an interview earlier this week.

The command comprises two units: A Cyber Defence Group (CDG) that guards against, detects and responds to cyber attacks; and a C4 (Command, Control, Communications and Computers) Operations Group (C4OG), which operates and monitors all of the SAF's networks, including its war-fighting systems.

When fully staffed, the C4 Command will have 2,000 regular soldiers and national servicemen: 700 in the C4OG, and 1,300 in the CDG.

In the interview for SAF Day today, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Singapore has become a target for cyber attacks.

"Singapore has now found itself on someone's list. The attacks are orchestrated. The attacks are targeted. They want to steal specific information. There are minds behind this orchestration," Dr Ng said.

On Feb 1, a cyber breach of Mindef's I-net system was discovered, with hackers stealing the personal information of 854 personnel.

Dr Ng said that "consequential changes" are being made in the light of the threats, and this started with the forming of the ministry's Defence Cyber Organisation (DCO), which he announced in March.

The DCO, which will be staffed with half of the 2,600 cyber defenders, is a top-level command that develops cyber defence policies and strategies for the SAF, defence industry partners and other Mindef- related organisations.

"The next two decades or longer will not see threats diminish but indeed increase, whether from conventional threats, maritime threats, terrorist threats, cyber threats, and the SAF is adapting swiftly to this new threat environment," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2017, with the headline 'SAF identifying and grooming cyber defenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe