In an increasingly inter-connected world reliant on computer systems, the threat posed to businesses by hackers and malicious programs has never been higher. With more than 117,000 reported cyber security incidents occurring every day, cyber attacks have increased 66 percent year-over-year since 2009. The recent Annual Security Report from cyber security giant Cisco found that attackers have become more proficient than ever at exploiting holes in cyber security, and at avoiding detection of their malicious activities. Businesses both large and small must therefore stay constantly vigilant to protect themselves from hacking or misuse of their cyber systems.

The role of cyber security is especially important in Singapore, where many businesses (such as finance, software development, etc.) rely extensively on technology and IT systems. Launched this year, the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) is a new government organization that will ensure that Singapore stays on the forefront in this field and continues to be an attractive location for high-tech businesses to operate.

In addition, the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) has tasked itself with developing and sharing actionable security information with companies so that they can protect themselves, and with nurturing talent in the cyber security industry to meet the growing need for professionals in this field. Mr Kiren Kumar, the EDB Director for Infocomms and Media, described the economic opportunity presented by an increased need for cyber security: “With the rapid evolution of threats, we recognise the importance of developing a vibrant cyber security industry; not just to improve our own cyber resilience, but also to reap economic benefits from this fast-growing market.” The benefits of building Singapore’s profile in cyber security are two-fold: first, to protect businesses in Singapore from the financial loses of cyber crime, and secondly, to capitalize on business growth opportunity in the booming IT sector.

Opportunities in the Cyber Security Industry

The EDB is following a path forged by the Infocomm Development Authority’s (IDA) Technology Roadmap for Cyber Security, which was released in 2012. Even back then, the global cyber security market was worth US$63.7 billion (S$80 billion) per year, and was estimated to grow to over US$120 billion by 2017. In the Asia-Pacific market specifically, growth was expected at 13.4 percent per year, reaching US$26 billion by 2017. As Singapore has a strong position in the information technology market, this presents an opportunity for further economic development. However, there has been a lack of specialists working in cyber security specifically as back in 2012, just 0.8 percent of IT workers in Singapore were in cyber security. The EDB has therefore been working to encourage workers into cyber security, as well as attracting those who are already experienced in the field to work and stay in Singapore.

These efforts continue now and are laid out in plans for the coming years as well. The IDA’s National Cyber Security Masterplan 2018 includes the growth of education and training in cyber security as a key focus point. Hence IDA has already initiated plans such as 30 graduate scholarships for research in cyber security, and has engaged with educational institutions to include more information on cyber security in their curriculums. New study programs have been launched, such as the undergraduate degree in Information Security at the Singapore Institute of Technology, which started in September this year and is the first of its kind in the country. This signals the beginning of a more direct focus on cyber security in IT education, such as the undergraduate specialization in Information Security which has been introduced by the Nanyang Technological University, which will bring future benefits and security to companies being set up in Singapore in the future.

Security Research Centre Opens in Singapore

Last year, the aerospace technology developer Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) announced that it would open a cyber security centre in Singapore. The early warning cyber security research and development (R&D) centre, under the subsidiary Custodio, researches active defense capabilities so that attackers can be caught in the act if they try to hack systems, in addition to cyber geo-location which identifies the physical location from which the attack originated. EDB welcomed the addition of an R&D centre to Singapore’s growing cyber security scene, as an example of the efforts of the EDB to connect with international partners to promote the city-state as a leader in cyber security, in terms of both talent and research and to set up their office in Singapore.

EDB Collaborates with Corporations to Promote Cyber Security

The EDB has also been working actively with businesses to forward this security agenda. In November last year, the EDB presented a Memorandum of Understanding alongside the multinational IT company NEC which outlined their shared commitment to smart energy, healthcare, and the Internet of Things, in addition to the focus on security. NEC will be seeking to promote its cyber security profile by recruiting, training, and developing talented individuals with skills in the areas of software, security, or forensic cyber investigation. Contextualising these plans into the EDB’s broader aims, Mr. Yeoh Keat Chuan, Managing Director, said “We believe that NEC’s plans are well-aligned with EDB’s vision for Singapore to be the digital innovation capital of Asia.”

The EDB has also participated in investment in cyber security firms through it corporate investment arm, EDBI. In July this year, EDBI joined the startup funding of cyber security company CounterTack, which uses behaviorally-based detection, analysis and response technology to protect commercial and governmental systems. CEO and President of EDBI, Chu Swee Yeok, was confident that the cyber security industry in Singapore was ready to meet the challenges posed by increasingly sophisticated cyber crime: “The presence of leading cybersecurity companies such as CounterTack in Singapore, with its unique endpoint threat detection and response solutions, will help strengthen business resilience against rising cyber attacks.”