Global, rules-based cooperation in cyberspace more important than ever, says Iswaran at start of Singapore International Cyber Week

(Clockwise from top left) Moderator Haslinda Amin, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, Bain and Company technology consultant Syed Ali and World Economic Forum managing director Murat Sonmez. PHOTO: CYBER SECURITY AGENCY OF SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Global cooperation within a rules-based multilateral system is more important than ever for countries dealing with collective challenges in cyber security and the technology sector, even as the world grows more polarised in some ways, said Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran on Monday (Oct 5).

Mr Iswaran likened his vision for the global cyber landscape to the existing multilateral trading system, which is governed by a set of common rules all countries abide by but also allows for closer collaboration between partners whose interests converge.

"In the case of cyber security, the work that is being done in the United Nations, for example... is very important in developing that multilateral approach," said Mr Iswaran, who was speaking in a dialogue, titled The Future Tech Landscape: Bipolar?, that was the opening event of this year's Singapore International Cyber Week (SICW).

"But I think there is an important role for regional partnerships... that allow like-minded countries to work together and start moving at a pace that is perhaps faster and in a manner that is more innovative than what you might be able to achieve in a multilateral platform."

The world's two superpowers, the United States and China, are locked in a mutually damaging trade and tech war that has only intensified with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This tension and the splitting of technology or cyber-security standards into one side versus another side from two major technology providers have significant implications for the rest of the world, said Bain and Company technology consultant Syed Ali, who was speaking the same dialogue as Mr Iswaran.

"For example, it ranges from wondering what the (cyber security) standard is going to be for hardware (used in) the rolling out of 5G technology and how the different components communicate with each other, down to the software level and how the data is stored," said Mr Syed.

"Cyber-security solutions have had to essentially split because of this (conflict)."

World Economic Forum managing director Murat Sonmez said finding a global consensus in terms of how data flows are managed and secured will be hard, but there is also an increased desire among countries to collaborate on shared issues or challenges such as climate change, congestion in cities and the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We should not conflate multilateralism with unanimity... in a multi-stakeholder discussion or dialogue," he said.

Mr Iswaran also emphasised the need for stronger collaboration between governments and the private sector to maximise the benefits of emerging technology.

"You need the creativity and the push from the private sector in terms of being at the cutting edge, and then you need the leavening influence of government because we have to take into account the impact on society and the economy, and how to bring everybody along," he said.

"We know that we start from different places but let's try and find a way to make common cause. Because if you take the approach that the government doesn't trust the private sector... and the private sector views the government as basically obstructionist, then we have a problem."

SICW 2020 is being held in a mostly virtual format owing to safe distancing measures and travel restrictions, and will conclude on Friday. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat is expected to speak in detail on Singapore's cyber-security strategy on Tuesday.

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