S'pore to work with UN to beef up cyber security

Move to roll out checklist of norms for UN members builds on chart drawn up by Asean

Singapore will cooperate with the United Nations to draw up a checklist of the steps 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, in announcing it yesterday, 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 videoconferencing to wrap up Singapore International Cyber Week 2020.

"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 advances 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 urge a state to take appropriate measures to protect its critical infrastructure from infocommunications and technology threats, and not knowingly support activity that intentionally damages critical infrastructure, among other things.

Mr Iswaran said the move to develop a checklist builds on a chart established by Asean last year to implement the norms.

The chart will be refined to apply to 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 to enable developing nations in particular to identify the required steps for implementing 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 move from statements of principles to the more concrete steps of implementation.

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

Noting that some of the 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."

Pinpointing the attackers is very difficult, she added. "But I think the actors are actually multi-stakeholders, they are obviously transnational criminal organisations, maybe individuals."

She also said preventing them and holding them accountable is especially difficult in cyberspace.

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

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

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

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2020, with the headline S'pore to work with UN to beef up cyber security. Subscribe