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DSTA Deputy Chief Executive on defence and national security opportunities for commercial companies

DSTA Deputy Chief Executive on defence and national security opportunities for commercial companies

At CyberTech
Asia 2018, Mr Hor Gar Yin, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) of Singapore’s Defence
Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), spoke about the evolving technology and cybersecurity
landscape and the role of commercial companies in the defence and national
security of Singapore.

Close dependencies of emerging technologies

to Mr Hor, many of the Industry 4.0 technologies converge in key commercial
trends that have close dependencies on each other. The high velocity of
technology change is evident in the exponential growth in computing power per
unit cost, which has then allowed electronics to become smaller, faster,
cheaper and more powerful. Such exponential growth also results in the
explosion of sensors in commercial technology. All these sensors provide
multiple avenues and dimensions for data collection. Subsequently, with the
emergence of big data and artificial intelligence (AI), the sheer volume of
information and data that can now be collected necessitates the appropriate
technology to make sense of it.

He pointed out that big data and AI also lay the foundation
for two other trends: (1) advances in visualisation technology that allow us to
display and present data in more creative and effective ways, and (2) the
increase in demand for design innovation as a key principle in engineering.

Connectivity = Vulnerability

Mr Hor noted that with increased connectivity on a national
scale, there is an increased dependence on technologies to support our way of
life. As such, cybersecurity becomes increasingly more important in this
technological landscape.

“We need to ensure that this dependence is not undermined by
cyber threats, as trust in these systems is of utmost importance,” he said.

On a global scale, Singapore’s connectivity makes it more
vulnerable to threats.

“Cyber threats are a
real concern for Singapore, and they will continue to increase in
sophistication. Advances in technologies such as social media, cloud services
and virtualization have allowed many companies to operate successfully and
efficiently. Similarly, these advantages are also being leveraged by terrorist
or hacktivist groups to spread their propaganda and aid in the execution of
their plans,” he explained.

challenges in the Cyber Olympics

 “The reality is that
Singapore is firmly plugged into the global network and will face threats from
the best-of-the-best. There are no physical boundaries in the cyber world.”

Mr Hor described such global cyber realm as “the Cyber Olympics”.
To compete at the Cyber Olympics, Singapore is facing the following challenges:


As systems are increasingly connected in new ways, the
complexity of destructive threats will escalate as well. As these systems were
originally independent, interfacing these systems may result in new threat
vectors that were previously considered. Thus, there is a need to tackle and
manage the increasing complexity, and to prepare the security of technologies
as new developments arise. 


On the national Security front, cyber plays a central role
in the hybridization of warfare. It opens up non-kinetic options for aggressive
engagements below the traditional threshold of war. It empowers individuals and
non-state actors, and also allows for the destabilisation of government through
info ops and propaganda on a divided population. 


Technology advancement brings constant disruption. If not
managed properly, such constant disruptions could be very painful for many. Mr
Hor cautioned that we must be ready for the social and economic implications of
the constant disruptions.

the workforce

A direct implication of the constant disruption is the need
to upskill the workforce to prepare for the challenges ahead. Automation
threatens to make jobs obsolete, and a challenge is in the equipping the
workforce with new, relevant and marketable skills. There is also increasing need
for competency and talent to keep up with the cutting edge of technology. 


However, upskilling of the workforce is a challenging task,
particularly against the backdrop of aging population and falling birth rates. Such
demographic trends lead to dwindling manpower resources and increasing
competition for talent. The reduced workforce will challenge Singapore’s
ability to remain competitive in the coming years.

Leveraging technology
to harness intelligence

Despite these challenges, Mr Hor also see the opportunities
in exploiting technology to harness intelligence through the 3 main thrusts:

(1) Smart processes

Smart processes refer to the incorporation of new
technologies to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of activities and
approaches. An example of this is the introduction of virtual simulators for
military training to reduce the land allocated for training activities in

(2) Smart infrastructure

Smart Infrastructure makes the physical structures that enable
our day-to-day lives to be more efficient and controllable.

“Next generation data centres and data-driven facilities management
technologies allow us to improve space utilization, energy efficiency, and
monitoring capabilities of our key buildings for cost and environmental impact
reductions,” he said.

(3) Smart communities

Smart Communities focuses on connecting people with the
information and technology to drive improvements in their quality of life,
innovation, and decision making. It also promotes collaboration between
previously disconnected spheres to boost real-time awareness and information

Mr Hor Gar Yin at CyberTech Asia (Credit: Nicky Lung)

Cyber as the
foundation of smart initiatives

In all these smart initiative, cybersecurity is the core foundation.

“A breach in any of these systems could undermine the
stability of the entire smart ecosystem. The consideration for cybersecurity
must therefore be incorporated into the design right from the start of the
development. This principal of cyber safe by design is one that DSTA regards
highly,” he explained.

He continued to name several enablers that bolster Singapore’s
cyber defences. They include: (1) adaptable governance and constant innovation
to keep up with the evolving threats and challenges, (2) a skilled workforce to
manage the technologies and (3) secured infrastructure.

On the cyber front, to prepare for global threats that can
take place any time, Singapore also needs increased national cyber situation awareness,
relevant and actionable cyberthreat intelligence, as well as constant monitoring
and rapid response.

The role of commercial

These enablers also present opportunities for commercial
companies to consider in their partnerships with defence and national security
organisations. He emphasised that the commercial industry plays a very
important role in defence and national security.

“It is very clear in recent years that the commercial
industry drives the leading edge in technological developments. Defence
organisations around the world have been adapting and adopting commercial
technologies into their strategic capabilities, and DSTA is no different – we
must engage the commercial industry for innovative and advanced cyber solutions,”
he re-iterated.  

According to Mr Hor, some of the areas that DSTA is looking
into working with the commercial community are: cyber threat intelligence, advanced
malware analysis, autonomous systems security, cyber deception, dynamic defence
technologies, and advanced analytics and machine learning-related technologies.

He concluded by saying that Singapore will need
new and innovative solutions from the commercial industry to tackle the
challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and that he hopes companies
will seize these partnerships and engagements.

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