15 October 2014

Opening Address by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, at the 12th National Security Seminar (NSS)

Permanent Secretaries,


Ladies and Gentlemen,


1.           Good morning to all of you. I am happy to join you for the 12th National Security Seminar. Even though we enjoy peace and stability in Singapore, the past year has seen new and evolving security threats around the world. These include the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (or ISIL), the growing frequency of cyber-attacks, the spread of MERS-CoV and the Ebola virus and the downing of MH17. Today, I will speak about how security threats have evolved, and what we need to do to prepare ourselves better to address such threats. I will mostly use examples related to terrorism and cyber threats. But what I say actually represents a way of thinking about such trends and can be more generally applied.


A more interconnected world


2.           Technology and globalisation have compressed time and space, so that events happening in one part of the world can rapidly affect another part. For example, since the Syrian conflict began just three years ago1, ISIL has attracted some 15,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries2, including Indonesia, Malaysia and a handful from Singapore. And the number continues to grow. Some who have returned home have also plotted or carried out attacks. As an indication of the inter-connectivity, the Frenchman who killed four people outside a museum in Brussels in May this year had returned to Europe via Singapore and Malaysia to cover his tracks after fighting in Syria for about a year3.


3.           There are reports that some Malaysians and Indonesians who fought for ISIL have formed a militant group called Katibah Nusantara Lid Daulah Islamiyyah or Malay Archipelago Unit for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. If this group expands in Southeast Asia, it will pose a regional terrorism threat like the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network, which had also aimed to set up a South East Asian Islamic Archipelago that encompassed Singapore, through the use of violence and terrorism.


…amplified by the widespread use of the Internet and social media


4.           Because of the widespread use of the Internet and social media today, terrorist groups and those who preach extremism and violence can now spread their messages to radicalise and recruit people from all over the world more quickly and effectively through Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and phone apps – the way that you and I get in touch with friends. Terrorist networks can also make use of virtual networks, and supporting technologies like encryption, to coordinate their activities, and amplify their reach.


5.           We are all also becoming increasingly dependent on cyber technologies for our daily activities, and the smooth and effective functioning of essential services. The cyber domain has thus become a lucrative target for those who aim to do harm. They range from individuals, loose groupings of virtual activists, criminal syndicates, terrorist groups, or state actors.  Whatever their origins or motives, they are able to hide behind the cloak of anonymity offered by the Internet, complicating efforts to take action against them. For example, more than 1,000 organizations across 84 different countries mostly in the energy and industrial sectors have reportedly been affected by malicious software from just one hacking group4.


Preparing Better to Tackle New and Evolving Threats


6.           How do we prepare ourselves better for these new and evolving national security threats? I will suggest three ways of thinking about it: First, anticipate rather than react. Second, secure by design rather than afterthought. Third, stand together rather than apart.


Anticipate rather than react


7.           First, to anticipate rather than react. In 2004, we set up the Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning programme, known as the RAHS programme, which analyses large amounts of data and information from many open sources to identify patterns, to identify early and weak signals, to identify emerging risks and opportunities that could be of significance to Singapore. Horizon scanning thus helps us to anticipate possible events, so that we can prepare for them even before they have happened. You can understand more about the RAHS programme from its annual publication, FutureStake, which is in your seminar folder.  


8.           The Ministry of Health (MOH) also has a surveillance system to detect potential infectious diseases early. Through systematic horizon scanning, and by maintaining close links with the World Health Organisation and health-care counterparts in other countries, the Ministry of Health is better able to detect and track outbreaks in other parts of the world, so that we can respond in a timely manner to potential outbreaks of infectious diseases5.


9.           On the maritime front, the National Maritime Sense-making Centre does real-time threat evaluation round the clock to obtain early warning of impending threats6. If a threat is detected, the National Maritime Operations Group will work with other maritime agencies to mount unified operations. Similarly, our National Cyber Security Centre maintains situational awareness over our Critical Information Infrastructure, around the clock. This allows the centre to detect national cyber threats as swiftly as possible, correlate cyber security events across sectors, and coordinate responses against cyber threats across – and not just within – sectors.  


10.       We are also upgrading our Cyber-Watch Centre to detect and counter increasing threats against our government systems. By January next year, the centre will have upgraded capabilities to track unauthorised changes to websites and network traffic, which would enable us to identify malicious files and potential data leakages7.


Secure by design rather than afterthought


11.       Second, secure by design rather than afterthought. After the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, the Ministry of Home Affairs worked with other government agencies to put together a set of guidelines to enhance building security. These measures were not easy to super-impose on existing buildings and work processes. It is best to incorporate security considerations during the planning and design stages when developing a new building. Security by design during the planning stage helps to minimise cost, maintain functionality and preserve the aesthetics of the design. In contrast, retrofitting an existing building to enhance security is almost always more costly, and may also affect the building’s functionality and appearance.


12.       We have incorporated security by design for our newer buildings. Changi Airport’s new Terminal 4 has layered security and hardening measures incorporated at the design stage. This allows security to be integrated into the functionality of the facilities. Security measures were also built into the design of the Sports Hub. These include having adequate stand-off distance around critical areas, and dedicated bays to facilitate vehicle screening during major events. This approach helps pre-empt potential threats, and facilitates the necessary responses should an incident occur. So if you visit these facilities and do not notice the security measures, then they were probably incorporated quite well. It should be the intention that the security measures look fine, and that the entry to, exit from, and enjoyment of, the facility, are smooth.


13.       In the cyber world, we should similarly factor in security concerns in the planning and design phase, and develop robust systems with defences against possible cyber-attacks. As cyber threats grow in number and sophistication, public and private organisations will need to be better prepared to protect themselves. One important measure is to invest in training. The KPMG Cyber Security Centre was set up in January with the support of IDA and Singapore Polytechnic, to help companies strengthen their cyber security8. Companies can train cyber professionals and upgrade their cyber defence capabilities at the centre. The Home Team Academy’s Cyber Security Lab, which will be ready by the end of this year, will provide realistic hands-on cyber security training for Home Team officers, as well as regulators and operators of critical information infrastructure9.


14.       We also need to build capabilities for the future by investing in Research & Development. So I am pleased to announce that the National Research Foundation has selected seven research projects under the National Cyber Security R&D Programme, chosen from more than 20 proposals from our Institutes of Higher Learning and Research Institutes. These seven projects will receive grants totalling S$42 million spread over the next two to five years, to carry out research in mobile security, network security, hardware and software security, digital forensics, and securing cloud data. These projects seek to strengthen the resilience of Singapore’s cyber infrastructure and help us stay ahead of cyber threats.


Stand together rather than apart


15.       Third, stand together rather than apart, and that is why all of you are here together, so that we can stand together better.In today’s inter-connected world, we need to work together with partners to keep not just ourselves safe, but also play our part to keep the entire ecosystem safe. These include community, public and private, as well as international partners.


16.       In the fight against radicalisation and extremism, our Islamic scholars and religious leaders came forward to form the Religious Rehabilitation Group in Singapore, to help rehabilitate individuals who had been radicalised, and to protect our community, especially youths, by countering extremist Islamic narratives10. Last year, the RRG organised an international conference on terrorist rehabilitation and community resilience to share best practices and lessons learnt amongst experts and practitioners from Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the US, as well as European and ASEAN countries. These were practitioners who had been involved directly with speaking to and rehabilitating individuals who had been radicalised. In July this year, the RRG opened a resource centre to support their training and counselling work against radical Islamist teachings. The centre also serves as a focal point for further collaboration with academics and professionals from around the world to work on terrorist rehabilitation and counter-ideology11.


17.       We also work with international organisations to fight terrorism and cyber threats. Three weeks ago, Singapore co-sponsored the United Nations Security Council resolution that aims to stop the flow of foreign extremists to Iraq and Syria, and requires all member nations to adopt laws that criminalise their nationals who join extremist groups such as the ISIL and the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front12. Recruiting for or funding such groups will also be serious crimes.


18.       To strengthen capacity and cooperation to combat cyber threats, the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation, or IGCI in short, will start operations in Singapore in 2015. We want to work together with others to share and build capabilities so that the entire system is safer. The IGCI will allow law enforcement agencies from around the world to share information, understand emerging trends, and build ties through the Digital Crime Centre13. It will provide tools and techniques for member countries to counter the latest trends in cybercrime14,  and set global standards and protocols in cybercrime investigation and forensics. It will also facilitate information-sharing with the private sector, which is crucial to strengthen overall efforts and actions against cybercrime.


19.       The private sector also has a role to play. Boeing will set up its first Cyber Analytics Centre outside the United States in Singapore by the first quarter of 2015. The centre will allow customers to share and analyse cyber information, and will enable security professionals, industry partners and academics to work together on tackling complex cyber security challenges15.




20.       While I have referred to examples based mainly on terrorism and cyber security today, these approaches are equally important and pertinent in other security domains, whether pandemics, natural disasters, or other threats. And while I described things that organisations and international organisations do, a lot depends on what we do ourselves. In the cyber world for example, , there are many weaknesses which people who want to penetrate the system can exploit, such as using weak passwords or unsecured thumb drives. People often are not exploiting system weaknesses, but are exploiting personal weaknesses. And so we need to have an instinctive vigilance – to anticipate possible threats to our systems, to encourage our own officers to be conscious of these threats, to plan for security by design, and to stand together to tackle these changes. I encourage all of us to think about how we can work together to help prevent, detect and respond to security threats in our work and our personal life.


21.       I wish all of you an enriching and engaging day. Thank you.

2 http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/spore-welcomes-un-anti-terror-resolution-and-will-play-its-part


4 http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/02/us-cybersecurity-energeticbear-idUSKBN0F722V20140702

5 http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/forum-letters/story/measures-place-combat-infectious-disease-outbreaks-20130730

7 http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/singapore-upgrades-cyber-security-operations-includes-wi

8 http://www.kpmg.com/SG/en/PressRoom/Documents/PR20140114.pdf

9 http://www.hometeam.sg/article.aspx?news_sid=20140924N0p5aXdv04mc

10 http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/spore-welcomes-un-anti-terror-resolution-and-will-play-its-part

11 http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/islamic-group-launches-centre-help-counter-extremist-ide

12 http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/spore-welcomes-un-anti-terror-resolution-and-will-play-its-part

13 http://news.yahoo.com/interpol-complex-singapore-boost-fight-against-cyber-crime-074028003.html

14 http://news.yahoo.com/interpol-complex-singapore-boost-fight-against-cyber-crime-074028003.html

15 http://boeing.mediaroom.com/2014-09-22-Boeing-to-Open-First-Cyber-Analytics-Center-Outside-the-US-in-Singapore