• Technology
  • 11 March 2020

How the government chief information security officer keeps cyberspace secure

If you had all the resources in the world, how would you protect your home against an intruder? You might put up CCTV cameras, install motion sensors along the walkways leading to your apartment, use multiple locks on the gates, employ a guard to patrol the surrounding premises—and for extra measure, keep a guard dog. Even then, determined and intelligent thieves could find their way in and leave with your precious personal items.

Such a scenario has its parallels in the digital realm. No matter how robust one’s cyber defences are, a chink in the metaphorical ‘armour’ can always be found and exploited, given enough time. What this means is that cybersecurity systems deployed by individuals and organisations need to be dynamic—constantly evolving with emerging technologies and threats.

Mr Chai Chin Loon, government chief information security officer and senior director at the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), knows this all too well. On the frontlines of the cybersecurity arms race, his daily challenge is to keep government digital assets and citizen data safe from malicious actors.

“From the government’s perspective, we have to cover the whole spectrum of cyber defence, from protecting against lone-wolf hackers all the way up to highly sophisticated and well-resourced state actors,” he said.

A lesson in trade-offs

When it comes to cybersecurity, “throwing” all security controls the problem won’t work, in Mr Chai’s opinion. Instead, he advocates a balance among three key parameters: security, costs and functionalities.

“Historically, cybersecurity has been focused on protection. The higher the ‘walls’ you put in place, the more layers you have, the more secure you are. But security has a cost,” he emphasised, referring not only to the financial cost of implementing cybersecurity measures, but also cost in terms of missed opportunities to provide greater value to users.

“If we keep increasing the security we put around the three groups of our core users—our citizens, our businesses and our public servants—it will affect their productivity and their ease-of-use,” he said. “So we have to find the right balance to achieve security without overly inconveniencing users to the point they stop using the services that are provided to them, and end up finding alternative that may be non-sanctioned ways of doing things.”

What’s needed, then, is a calibrated framework, whereby protections in cyberspace are pegged to the level of sensitivity of activities being carried out, or data being accessed. One useful way to do this is to segregate information into different tiers—for example, ‘secret’, ‘confidential’, ‘restricted’ and ‘unclassified’. Each tier will then be subjected to different levels of access restrictions, activity logging and so on. This approach advocates a risk-based security approach, said Mr Chai, and will help organisations better prioritise their cybersecurity efforts.

Giving guidance

Often, the deployment of a calibrated cybersecurity framework requires leadership at the level of policy setting. But where do policymakers take reference from to craft such frameworks?

Mr Chai highlighted that the Singapore government references relevant international cybersecurity standards and best practices such as those published by the US’ National Institute of Standards and Technology and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute’s Cybersecurity Technical Committee. This has resulted in the security portion of IM8 document, which consists of government policies, standards and guidelines for IT security.

Yet, simply putting out a policy document is not enough, said Mr Chai. “After crafting the policy, we need to help the system implementers understand how to comply with it, because otherwise, there may be different interpretations of the policy,” he noted, adding that within the government, a group of cybersecurity consultants exists to advise the various agencies on IM8 compliance matters and take on a risk based approach to secure their system.

Regular consultations are also important because of the fast-moving frontier of cybersecurity—policy cannot remain static and will need to be updated frequently.

This article was first published by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore on Oct 6, 2019. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Bank of Singapore Limited or its affiliates.


Important Information

The contents of this document have not been prepared or reviewed by Bank of Singapore Limited (the “Bank”). The Bank is not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this document which may change without prior notice. This communication may contain views which are not representative of the views of the Bank, and such views may have been derived without discussion, consultation or agreement with the Bank. You will need to decide as to whether or not the contents are suitable for you. When you are in doubt, please seek your own independent financial, legal, tax or other advice as you deem fit. Neither the Bank nor any of its officers accept any liability for any loss whatsoever arising out of or in connection with your use of the information in the document.

Cross-Border Marketing

Brunei: This document has not been delivered to, licensed or permitted by the Autoriti Monetari Brunei Darussalam, the authority as designated under the Brunei Darussalam Securities Markets Order, 2013 and the Banking Order, 2006; nor has it been registered with the Registrar of Companies, Registrar of International Business Companies or the Brunei Darussalam Ministry of Finance. The products mentioned in this document are not registered, licensed or permitted by the Autoriti Monetari Brunei Darussalam or by any other government agency or under any law in Brunei Darussalam. Any offers, acceptances, sales and allotments of the products shall be made outside Brunei Darussalam. Hong Kong SAR: Bank of Singapore Limited is an Authorized Institution as defined in the Banking Ordinance of Hong Kong (Cap 155), regulated by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority in Hong Kong and a Registered Institution as defined in the Securities and Futures Ordinance of Hong Kong (Cap. 571), regulated by the Securities and Futures Commission in Hong Kong. Indonesia: The offering of the investment product in reliance of this document is not registered under the Indonesian Capital Market Law and its implementing regulations, and is not intended to constitute a public offering of securities under the Indonesian Capital Market Law and its implementing regulations. According, this investment product may not be offered or sold, directly or indirectly, within Indonesia or to citizens (wherever they are domiciled or located), entities or residents, in any manner which constitutes a public offering of securities under the Indonesian Capital Market Law and its implementing regulations. Japan: The information contained in this document is for general reference purposes only. It does not have regard to your specific investment objectives, financial situation, risk tolerance and particular needs. Nothing in this document constitutes an offer to buy or sell or an invitation to offer to buy or sell or a recommendation or a solicitation to buy or sell any securities or investment. We do not have any intention of conducting regulated business in Japan. You acknowledge that nothing in this document constitutes investment or financial advice or any advice of any nature. Malaysia: Bank of Singapore Limited does not hold any licence, registration or approval to carry on any regulated business in Malaysia (including but not limited to any businesses regulated under the Capital Markets & Services Act 2007 of Malaysia), nor does it hold itself out as carrying on or purport to carry on any such business in Malaysia. Any services provided by Bank of Singapore Limited to residents of Malaysia are provided solely on an offshore basis from outside Malaysia, either as a result of “reverse enquiry” on the part of the Malaysian residents or where Bank of Singapore Limited has been retained outside Malaysia to provide such services. As an integral part of the provision of such services from outside Malaysia, Bank of Singapore Limited may from time to time make available to such residents documents and information making reference to capital markets products (for example, in connection with the provision of fund management or investment advisory services outside of Malaysia). Nothing in such documents or information is intended to be construed as or constitute the making available of, or an offer or invitation to subscribe for or purchase any such capital markets product. Myanmar: This document and information herein is made available by Bank of Singapore Limited, which is not licensed or registered under the Financial Institutions Law (Law No. 20/2016) or other Myanmar legislation to carry on, nor do they purport to carry on, any regulated activity in Myanmar. The provision of any products and services by Bank of Singapore Limited shall be solely on an offshore basis. You shall ensure that you have and will continue to be fully compliant with all applicable laws in Myanmar when entering into discussion or contracts with Bank of Singapore Limited. Oman: This document does not constitute a public offer of investment, securities or financial services in the Sultanate of Oman, as contemplated by the Commercial Companies Law of Oman (Royal Decree No. 4/1974), Banking Law of Oman (Royal Decree No. 114/2000) or the Capital Market Law of Oman (Royal Decree No. 80/1998) and the Executive Regulations of the Capital Market Law (Ministerial Decision No. 1/2009) or an offer to sell or the solicitation of any offer to buy non-Omani investment products, securities or financial services and products in the Sultanate of Oman. This document is strictly private and confidential. It is being provided to a limited number of sophisticated investors solely to enable them to decide whether or not to make an offer to invest in financial products mentioned in this document, outside of the Sultanate of Oman, upon the terms and subject to the restrictions set out herein and may not be reproduced or used for any other purpose or provided to any person other than the original recipient. Additionally, this document is not intended to lead to the making of any contract within the territory or under the laws of the Sultanate of Oman. The Capital Market Authority of Oman and the Central Bank of Oman take no responsibility for the accuracy of the statements and information contained in this document or for the performance of the financial products mentioned in this document nor shall they have any liability to any person for damage or loss resulting from reliance on any statement or information contained herein. Russia: The investment products mentioned in this document have not been registered with or approved by the local regulator of any country and are not publicly distributed in Singapore or elsewhere. This document does not constitute or form part of an offer or invitation to the public in any country to subscribe for the products referred to herein. South Korea: The document does not constitute an offer, solicitation or investment advertisement to trade in the investment product referred to in the document. The Philippines: The information contained in this document is not intended to constitute a public offering of securities under the Securities Regulation Code of the Philippines. Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC): Bank of Singapore Limited has a branch registered in the Dubai International Financial Centre ("DIFC") which is regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (“DFSA”). Bank of Singapore Limited (DIFC Branch) is not a financial institution licensed in the United Arab Emirates outside of the DIFC and does not undertake banking or financial activities in the United Arab Emirates nor is it licensed to do so outside of the DIFC. This material is provided for information purposes only and it is general information not specific in any way to any particular investor, investor type, strategy, investment need or other financial circumstance. As such this information is not financial advice or a financial promotion, nor is it intended to influence an investor's decision to invest. It is not to be construed as an offer to buy or sell or solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any financial instruments or to participate in any particular trading strategy in any jurisdiction. The material is only intended for persons who fulfill the criteria to be classified as “Professional Clients” as defined under the DFSA rules and should not be reviewed, received, provided to or relied upon by any other person. United Arab Emirates (U.A.E): The information contained herein is exclusively addressed to the recipient. The offering of certain products in this document has not been and will not be registered with the Central Bank of United Arab Emirates or Securities & Commodities Authority in the United Arab Emirates. Any products in this document that are being offered or sold do not constitute a public offering or distribution of securities under the applicable laws and regulations of the United Arab Emirates. This document is not intended for circulation or distribution in or into the UAE, other than to persons in the UAE to whom such circulation or distribution is permitted by, or is exempt from the requirements of, the applicable laws and regulations of the United Arab Emirates. The distribution of the information contained herein by the recipient is prohibited. Where applicable, this document relates to securities which are listed outside of the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and the Dubai Financial Market. The Bank of Singapore Limited is not authorized to provide investment research regarding securities listed on the exchanges of the United Arab Emirates which are outside of the DIFC. United Kingdom: In the United Kingdom, this document is being made available only to the person or the entity to whom it is directed being persons to whom it may lawfully be directed under applicable laws and regulations of the United Kingdom (such persons are hereinafter referred to as ‘relevant persons’). Accordingly, this document is communicated only to relevant persons.  Persons who are not relevant persons must not act on or rely on this document or any of its contents. Any investment or investment activity to which this document relates is available only to relevant persons and will be engaged in only with relevant persons. Relevant persons in receipt of this document must not distribute, publish, reproduce, or disclose this document (in whole or in part) to any person who is not a relevant person. United States of America: This product may not be sold or offered within the United States or to U.S. persons.

© 2019 Bank of Singapore Limited. All rights reserved.

Version: December 2019