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Monetary Authority of Singapore mandates new cyber hygiene guidelines

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has stipulated a set of cyber hygiene rules for all financial services and e-payment firms to abide by, effective from 6 August 2020.

This is in lieu of MAS’s efforts to tighten the financial industry’s defence system.

MAS made this announcement yesterday, 6 August, explaining that it is crucial to mandate these guidelines. The financial sector is bound to face more risks as it starts incorporating more tech services, such as e-wallets (eg. Singtel Dash) and cryptocurrency firms.

Financial institutions, such as banks and stock brokerage firms, which are licensed under MAS will have to follow these rules once they have been implemented.

MAS presently has 160 firms licensed under it.

Vincent Loy, assistant managing director of technology at MAS said, “When we looked at all the incidents that happened globally and in Singapore, we realised that 90 per cent of them are a result of basic cyber hygiene not being followed.”

He explained that these incidents reiterate the fact that cyber hygiene is an imperative practice that organisations must employ to ensure the safety of information. He added that MAS had been planning on this in the last two years.

This new set of guidelines was developed over the two years, with MAS consulting the industry. These cyber hygiene rules were pushed to be enforced after the series of security breaches.

One of the biggest security breaches Singapore faced would be the attack on SingHealth’s databases.

As reported in an earlier OpenGov article, the lack of cybersecurity awareness was a key reason for the occurrence of this security breach. Although the suspicious activity had been noticed, staff were not equipped with knowledge on the IT security policy and of the importance of escalating reports of suspicious activity to the Cyber Security Agency (CSA).

Weakness was also detected in the SingHealth system and Sunrise Clinical Manager System. It was found that an open network connection between Citrix SGH servers and SCM database was a defect that allowed the hacker to get answers for questions about the database. It also found that servers were not well-protected from unauthorised people.

In another recent OpenGov article, we looked at the state of cybersecurity within the nation and of the current status of it.

Cybersecurity is a very present threat in today’s digital landscape. Governments, financial institutions and organisations alike are victims of it. While organisations are constantly finding protective measures around it, the threats remain and evolve.

It was established that Singapore, being a financial hub within the region, is facing an increasing demand from financial institutions to boost the security of systems, applications and services.

Organisations must constantly change their ways and work around their framework as cybersecurity is a threat which will continue to exist.

MAS is the first finance governing authority in the world to implement such regulatory cybersecurity guidelines. Sanctions will be imposed on those who fail to abide by them.

Some of these guidelines include:

  • ensuring that passwords are strong
  • multi-factor authentication
  • firewalls to protect systems from outsiders or hackers
  • constant updates of anti-virus software
  • validation of who has access to administrative accounts

Loy reiterated that the finance industry is usually the leading one in risk management. He explained that the finance sector faces the biggest and fastest blow in security breaches as compared to other sectors, due to it possessing valuable resources such as money and confidential data of customers.

In relation to this, MAS had put forth the new Payment Services Act earlier this year, which will be implemented from January 2020 onwards.

As part of this, all financial institutions must send alerts to their consumers for every e-payment transaction above S$0.01 made.

MAS is considering implementing measures placed on banks to critical payment system operators, such as NETS. It is still in discussions with the industry on the feasibility of it.

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