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Singapore to launch digital defence agency to counter growing cyber threats

Russian cyber tactics in Ukraine cited as reason behind new military arm

The Singapore government is set to introduce a fourth arm to its military tasked with countering digital threats targeting the country.

The new fourth service, the Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS), is expected to launch in the last quarter of this year, said Ng Eng Hen, minister of defence, at the committee of supply debates 2022, yesterday.

Ng said the fourth service cannot be like the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), its army, air force, or navy, with similar troops operating in the digital domain instead of the physical one. He said the nature of the digital domain and the threats in it require different skill sets and mindsets.

Technology related to IT and communications will play a big role for the DIS, and require a force with specialisations not only in core IT areas and communications, but in data science, psychology, linguistics, anthropology, and geography. This is to help it understand which orchestrated state and non-state groups aim to harm Singapore.

“The addition of this fourth service, the DIS, will allow the SAF to better train and fight as a networked, integrated, and expanded force to deal with the spectrum of threats that we know exist today, but also the digital domain that we know will increase in the future,” said Ng.

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As part of the need for this new service, Ng underlined that threats that emanate in the digital domain can readily impact events in the real physical world. He said the divide between virtual and physical in security terms is a false one, pointing at examples like fuel shortages in the US following the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, and Iranians being unable to top up at petrol stations last October following an attack on a payment system.

Ng also pointed to Ukraine, highlighting how cyber attacks have been targeting the country during the current Russian invasion.

“I think all Members here would agree with me that we can learn from this unfortunate situation,” he explained. “And far better to learn and adjust now because if we wait to change only after an attack on ourselves, the cost is going to be very high.”

Ng revealed that Singapore’s intelligence sources haven’t identified orchestrated attempts to subvert or subjugate the state using hybrid means. He added that this doesn’t mean the threat will never come, so it’s best to prepare now.

The DIS will seek to add to the efforts the SAF has built up over the past decade, including the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) division. It was set up to enhance the resilience of the SAF’s networks and systems.

The new service is set to facilitate C4I’s mission focus, sharpen direct responsibility and accountability, and capability development.

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