YEARENDER | TECHNOLOGY

Look back 2018: Year of smart tech moves

Big steps in the e-payments scene here were made in 2018, as Singapore moved closer to its aim of becoming a cashless society.

The launch of SGQR was welcome news to consumers and merchants alike, as the universal QR code sought to unify the fragmented e-payments space. Nets also said it would streamline e-payments for all hawker, canteen and coffee shop stalls with a single, unified system.

Cyber security was in the spotlight too, following Singapore's worst cyber attack, where hackers got away with the personal particulars of 1.5 million SingHealth patients.

But Singapore's online defences got a boost when Parliament passed a new set of laws to bolster them.

In recognising the potential of artificial intelligence (AI), the Government also announced two new nationwide training initiatives to benefit 12,000 people over the next three years.

The Straits Times looks at the eight biggest tech stories of the past year.


1 FACEBOOK'S REPUTATION TAKES A BEATING

Facebook's 2.2 billion monthly active users might not be safe, as multiple incidents have led many to question how responsibly it handles their data.

  • 50 million

    Number of Facebook accounts that could have been taken over by hackers after they stole digital login codes. 

  • 87 million 

    Number of users whose personal data had been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

In September, Facebook revealed that hackers had stolen digital login codes, allowing them to take over up to 50 million user accounts.

This was considered by many to be its worst breach, given the unprecedented level of access the hackers would have had.

Earlier, in April, it admitted that the personal data of up to 87 million users had been improperly shared with British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The disclosure prompted governments all over the world to inquire into the company's privacy practices, and resulted in a "#deleteFacebook" social movement among consumers.

2 SINGPASS MOBILE MAKES FOR EASIER ACCESS

Using SingPass for government transactions became easier on Oct 22 with the launch of the SingPass Mobile app.

Citizens can now scan their fingerprints or faces to log into hundreds of e-government services, without the hassle of remembering passwords.

It was developed by GovTech, the agency behind public sector tech transformations here.

The SingPass Mobile app is offered as a more convenient login option. The app is available on both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Its fingerprint scanning feature works with all devices, but facial scanning works only on Apple iOS devices.

3 CYBER SECURITY INSIGHTS FROM SINGHEALTH DATA BREACH

A committee of inquiry (COI) reviewing Singapore's worst cyber attack, on SingHealth in June, said mindsets about cyber security must change and organisations must assume they are already under attack.

This means they must equip themselves with measures to identify and mitigate online security breaches, rather than just set up defences to ward off attacks.

Hackers infiltrated the computers of SingHealth, Singapore's largest group of healthcare institutions, and stole the personal particulars of 1.5 million patients.

 
 
 

The four-man committee, led by retired district judge Richard Magnus, heard 16 recommendations on what firms should do, in the course of the 21-day hearings.

Witnesses revealed how factors such as failings in organisational processes and staff judgment had contributed to the breach, which was described as a planned attack carried out with patience by an advanced and persistent threat actor.

The COI is expected to submit a report on its findings and recommendations in a week's time.

4 NETS TO RUN E-PAYMENT SYSTEM FOR HAWKERS

Food sellers in 12,000 stalls at hawker centres, canteens and coffee shops breathed a sigh of relief when Nets said in September that it would roll out a single cashless payment system that they could all use.

As the country's first "master acquirer", Nets will give hawkers hardware to accept e-payments from 20 sources, including e-wallets and credit cards.

Hawkers will no longer have to deal with different e-payment firms, and will settle accounts with Nets alone.

The all-in-one e-payment terminals, which can read contactless and chip-based cards, and process QR code payments, will also be rented to hawkers for no charge for the first three years after they sign up with Nets.

Transaction fees of 0.5 per cent will be borne by the Government during the period.

Nets was appointed after a call for bids from the industry in May.

5 SINGAPORE AIMS HIGH WITH AI EXPOSURE

Singapore's burgeoning artificial intelligence (AI) scene is set to grow, with two nationwide initiatives announced in August.

To be developed by AI Singapore, AI for Industry (AI4I) and AI for Everyone (AI4E) will equip 12,000 Singaporeans over the next three years with various AI knowledge.

AI4I will put 2,000 executives, and those technically inclined in AI, through a subsidised three-month foundation course on developing basic AI and data applications.

AI4E is a free introductory three-hour workshop to expose 10,000 people to AI and data science. The workshop will help them appreciate the practical use of AI and identify potential uses in their work and daily lives.

The initiatives were announced by Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran at an event commemorating AI Singapore's first anniversary.

6 UNIFIED PAYMENT QR CODE LAUNCHED

A universal QR code allowing consumers to scan and transfer funds from as many as 27 e-payment apps was launched on Sept 17.

Dubbed SGQR and described as the world's first unified payment QR code, the system allows customers to choose from a host of e-payment solutions such as GrabPay, Dash and Nets, and enables businesses to accept them. The move was made to help simplify QR e-payments here for both consumers and merchants.

Before this, multiple QR codes had to be displayed at one store to support various e-payment schemes. With SGQR, only one QR code sticker, alongside the QR payment options accepted by the merchant, needs to be displayed.

SGQR is the work of an industry task force co-led by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Infocomm Media Development Authority. It followed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call at last year's National Day Rally for an easy-to-use, interoperable e-payment system.

7 NEW CYBERSECURITY ACT ALLOWS SWIFT ACTION

In February, Parliament passed new laws to bolster Singapore's cyber defences.

The Cybersecurity Act empowers the Commissioner of Cybersecurity to obtain confidential information from local organisations to investigate suspected cyber attacks. The current commissioner is Mr David Koh, chief executive of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore.

The new laws also allow the commissioner to demand data or seize computers from owners of critical information infrastructure (CII) and non-CII systems that are deemed necessary for their investigations.

CII refers to any system that relates to 11 essential services, including banking, telecommunications, transport, healthcare and energy.

Failure to share the required information or comply with any order from the commissioner can lead to a fine of up to $100,000 or two years in jail, or both.

Owners of CII must also notify the commissioner of any cyber-security incident.

8 LANDMARK COURT CASE ON MEDIA STREAMING BOXES

In January, retail firms Synnex Trading and An-Nahl and their directors were taken to court by pay-TV operators Singtel and StarHub, Fox Networks Group and the Premier League for allegedly infringing copyright.

They allegedly did so by helping people watch pirated content through media streaming boxes. The landmark criminal case, which is ongoing, will decide whether the boxes are legal.

The complainant is Mr Neil Gane, general manager of the Asia Video Industry Association's Coalition Against Piracy unit, which was founded in October last year.

Such media streaming boxes often come pre-loaded with apps that can access pirated content, and have been the scourge of pay-TV operators and content publishers.

On Nov 2, the High Court ordered eight new piracy websites and any others related to them to be blocked, bringing the number of blocked websites to just over 60 since copyright rules were amended four years ago.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2018, with the headline 'Tech: Year of smart moves'. Print Edition | Subscribe