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Singapore to work with UN to help nations implement norms for responsible cyber behaviour

Building on a system developed by Asean, the Republic and the United Nations are taking steps to help create a safe digital future for the world

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announcing the launch of the Safer Cyberspace Masterplan in his keynote address at the opening of SICW 2020. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL CYBER WEEK
Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announcing the launch of the Safer Cyberspace Masterplan in his keynote address at the opening of SICW 2020. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL CYBER WEEK

With the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting normal life, this year’s Singapore International Cyber Week (SICW), the region’s most established cybersecurity event, was held in a hybrid physical-virtual format. Most of the tracks were held online, with selected events, like the Opening Ceremony, organised at Marina Bay Sands under strict social distancing guidelines. The event brought together political leaders, policymakers and thought leaders from around the world to discuss major cybersecurity related issues and geopolitical challenges related to them. 138 speakers from across governments, industry and academia participated in the event, with more than 6,000 public and private sector attendees from 60 countries around the world.

Setting the tone for SICW 2020 with his keynote address, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said: “We are not only in the midst of a global pandemic; we are also at the centre of a digital revolution, one that would fundamentally change societies and economies around the world.”

DPM Heng noted that there are challenges to digitalisation that need to be addressed early, such as the ethical use of technology, user privacy and a growing digital divide. DPM Heng reinforced the need to strengthen cooperation between countries, businesses and people. He also announced the launch of the Safer Cyberspace Masterplan, the Government’s blueprint to create a safer cyberspace in Singapore.


At the 5th Asean Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity, Singapore’s Communications and Information Minister and Minister-in-Charge of Cybersecurity, S Iswaran spoke about Singapore’s readiness to work with Asean partners to safeguard our cyberspace. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL CYBER WEEK 

One of the highlights of this year’s conference was an agreement between Singapore and the United Nations (UN) to develop a norms implementation checklist, which comprises a series of steps that countries need to take in order to implement a set of cybersecurity norms for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace.

Speaking at the SICW, Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs said the checklist would assist countries in the implementation of the 11 voluntary, non-binding norms of responsible state behaviour crafted by the 2015 UN Group of Governmental Experts (UNGGE) and adopted by consensus at the UN General Assembly.

The checklist will enable countries to take steps in contributing to a stable and secure, trusted and interoperable global cyberspace. This will be facilitated through workshops carried out through the Asean-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence under the auspices of the UN- Singapore Cyber Programme (UNSCP).

She added that the UN considers Singapore to be a global leader in the field of cybersecurity and the country is playing a key role on the world stage in terms of fostering stable and peaceful cyberspace. The UN Office for Disarmament Affairs has been collaborating with the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) since 2018 under the UNSCP.

Speaking at the SICW 2020 Joint Press Conference with Ms Nakamitsu, Singapore’s Communications and Information Minister and Minister-in-Charge of Cybersecurity, Mr S Iswaran, said the checklist builds on a system developed by Asean last year to implement the norms. Asean will share its experience 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.

Mr Iswaran said the digital economy, as well as cyber threats, are borderless and there is thus a need for a multilateral effort to deal with the challenge.

This is all part of a larger effort to ensure that the digital commons remains safe, secure and interoperable, “so that we can all benefit from the opportunities that it has to offer”, he added.

According to Ms Nakamitsu, international cooperation and capacity-building is a key element to ensure cybersecurity for all. “The development of regional approaches to capacity-building would be beneficial, as they could take into account specific cultural, geographic, political, economic or social aspects and allow a tailored approach,” she added.

Noting that Asean’s digital economy is expected to increase from about US$31 billion (S$42 billion) in 2015 to nearly US$200 billion by 2025 — a six-fold increase in 10 years — Mr Iswaran said “Singapore stands ready to work with all our Asean partners and together, our people and businesses can thrive in a safe digital future”.

He added that from his discussion with his counterparts at this year’s Asean Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity (AMCC), it is clear that Asean is eager to capitalise on this digital opportunity and is well-positioned to do so. “Singapore and Asean member states reiterated our collective commitment to take practical steps to enhance the cybersecurity of our region, in particular, the urgent need to protect national and cross-border Critical Information Infrastructure (CII) that serves as the backbone for regional communications trade, transportation, and logistics links,” Mr Iswaran said.

As a part of Singapore’s ongoing efforts to safeguard cyberspace, Mr Iswaran launched a new Cybersecurity Labelling Scheme to indicate the cybersecurity levels of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, at the AMCC. The Scheme establishes cybersecurity rating levels for smart devices and is meant to guide consumers into making informed choices and encourage manufacturers to make safer products.

Relating to this labelling system, the Minister added that CSA will work with Asean member states and other international partners to establish mutual recognition arrangements. Mr Iswaran also announced measures to ramp up Singapore’s cybersecurity in Operational Technology (OT) systems, including those in the energy, water, and transport sectors. The CSA will establish an OT Cybersecurity Expert Panel (OTCEP) comprising internationally renowned practitioners, to advise government agencies and stakeholders on strategies to enhance the resilience of Singapore’s OT systems, he said.

Speaking at the International IoT Security Roundtable 2020, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State (SMS), Ministry of Communications and Information, and SMS-in-Charge of Cybersecurity, highlighted that even as we tackle the cyber challenges of today, it is important to prepare for the cyber threats of tomorrow. With emerging technologies such as quantum computing, research and innovation are pivotal in extending our cybersecurity capabilities in areas of strategic importance. He announced that CSA is working with Tel Aviv University to launch a second joint grant call in late 2020, under the ambit of the National Cybersecurity Research and Development (R&D) programme. The call will seed research collaboration efforts on challenging areas in cybersecurity, including the Security of Smart Cities and IoT.

Giving his reaction as a private sector representative at the conference, Mr Eric Hoh, APAC President of cybersecurity company FireEye said cyber resilience takes on a whole new meaning in smart nations like Singapore.

“SICW 2020 underscores this and calls out the importance of collaboration, especially in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic. We are continuing to see new threats emerge, more incidents of cyber espionage and intrusions, and cyber attackers relentless in their pursuit of monetary gains,” he said and added that the stakes are high — governments, policymakers, and industry partners need to cooperate to “prevent the balkanisation of the Internet and find practical ways to pivot forward in this new normal”.

Summing up the significance of this year’s SICW, Mr David Koh, Chief Executive of CSA, said: “Digitalisation has accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sparked innovation and boosted the growth of the digital economy. Cybersecurity is now more important than ever. With all stakeholders — our international partners, the cybersecurity sector, the ICT industry, enterprises and users — working together, the economy can harness the full potential of technology to create good jobs and new opportunities.”