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Singapore’s Efforts to Preserve Trust in a Post-Pandemic Era

Mr Tan Kiat How, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information, at a recent gathering of tech digital executives, addressed the importance of trust and safety in a world that is rapidly moving online.

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation worldwide, leading to a wider digital ecosystem spanning cloud, IoT, cybersecurity, and more. The shift has helped businesses capture new opportunities and drive growth, especially in a post-pandemic world.

However, this increasingly digital landscape brings with it new threats and challenges, making it imperative for consumers, businesses, and governments to work together to preserve trust in the digital ecosystem.

One of the most significant challenges is ransomware attacks. Ransomware has evolved from a sporadic risk affecting a few systems to a large-scale systemic threat that can disrupt critical infrastructure and essential services and even threaten national security.

In Singapore, 137 ransomware cases were reported to the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore in 2021, a 54% increase from 2020. The cases affected mostly SMEs from sectors such as manufacturing and IT, and more cases may have gone unreported.

Online scams, which are increasingly prevalent, present another front of concern. The Singapore Police Force reported around 7,100 phishing scams in 2021, a 41% spike from 2020, resulting in a loss of SG$51 million in the last two years alone. As scammers become increasingly sophisticated and continually evolve their tactics, raising public awareness and putting in place preventive measures is vital.

Singapore is taking a multi-pronged approach to preserve trust in the digital ecosystem that includes involving enabling regulations, research and innovation and enhancing cybersecurity and data protection capabilities of organisations across all sectors.

Robust regulations are critical to enhancing the security and resilience of digital infrastructure, protecting users in the online space.

In 2018, Singapore passed the Cybersecurity Act, which provides a legal framework to protect critical information infrastructure (CII) that delivers essential services such as water and power. The Cyber Security Agency of Singapore is reviewing the Act to see if the scope of CII needs to be expanded and whether other digital infrastructure and services should be included.

The Online Safety Bill, passed in November 2021, aims to minimise users’ exposure to harmful digital content and equip them with tools to protect themselves online. Designated Social Media Services will need to comply with a Code of Practice for Online Safety, which Singapore expects to implement in H2 2023.

Research and innovation in areas such as AI, cybersecurity, and trust technologies are crucial to growing capabilities and anchoring Singapore as a Trusted Digital Innovation Hub. Singapore has initiated six trust-related research programmes across NTU, NUS, and SMU since 2020. These include applying privacy tech to social media and machine learning, the role of law and ethics in technology, and the use of blockchain in finance.

The Digital Trust Centre, launched last year, leads Singapore’s R&D efforts in trust technologies and supports talent development in this space.

Enhancing the cybersecurity and data protection capabilities of companies is also essential. Singapore launched the Cyber Trust and Cyber Essentials marks in 2021 to recognise companies that have implemented good cybersecurity practices and measures to address their cybersecurity risks. These certifications provide greater assurance to firms and consumers alike, fostering greater trust in the digital economy.

Singapore is refreshing Industry Digital Plans (IDPs) to incorporate a roadmap on Cybersecurity and Data Protection measures, helping companies identify and adopt suitable tools and practices to safeguard their systems.

The country also recognises the importance of global cooperation to preserve trust in the digital ecosystem. It has been pursuing Digital Economy Agreements (DEAs) with like-minded partners, which align digital rules and standards. The nation led the development of ASEAN Model Contractual Clauses, which facilitate the cross-border transfer of data across the region. The government is also working with partners to promote the APEC Cross Border Privacy Rules globally.


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