Total Defence of cyberspace & women in cyber security leadership roles: notes from Singapore International Cyber Week

In case you missed it, the Singapore International Cyber Week (SICW) was the talk of the town last week.

It was attended by our ministers and international dignitaries including, US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, along with cyber security professionals.

Source: SM Teo Facebook

Here are some highlights.

Total Defence for the cyber era

A comprehensive Total Defence of cyberspace is what the world needs for a more secure shared digital future, said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean during his opening address on Oct 19.

“Threats which start out in the digital domain can also quickly impact events in the physical world,” said SM Teo.

“The digital domain does not operate in a vacuum or in a separate reality,” he elaborated to the audience.

Here, SM Teo pointed to how the April-May 2022 ransomware attacks crippled Costa Rica’s government, and when attacks on Viasat satellites in February temporarily blocked out communications around Europe.

And so, countries need a five-layer Total Defence-style strategies to protect themselves from threats across all domains.

“First, we need to protect our digital information infrastructure. This includes the hardware and systems operated by our telcos, internet service and cloud service providers, and the physical cables and other digital connections with the world,” began the Senior Minister.

“Second, apart from our physical infrastructure, we also need to protect our soft national infrastructure.” He cited the examples of SingPass and PayNOW.

Another layer of defence includes protecting our Critical Information Infrastructure (CII) to keep essential services like transport, electricity and water functioning.

“Fourth, beyond the CII sectors, all organisations — including businesses and research and educational institutions, will need to strengthen their own defences against cyber threats,” he said, detailing how the newly-formed interagency Counter Ransomware Task Force (CRTF) will help by dealing with ransomware threats.

In this same spirit, individuals have a responsibility to adopt good cybersecurity practices and protect the systems and devices that they use. The Cybersecurity Labelling Scheme (CLS), is one way for people to identify smart devices that meet their cybersecurity needs, said SM Teo.

“Finally, underpinning all our efforts in our digital defence is the need to build a sufficiently large and skilled cybersecurity workforce to defend against and tackle new threats in cyberspace. And I know that this is a challenge that all of us face.”

Women in Cyber

Source: Josephine Teo Facebook

The Government is meeting this challenge regardless.

In particular, it actively encourages women to become cyber professionals and leaders, mentioned Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo during SICW’s Women in Cyber event on Oct 20.

“Why is this necessary?” asked Minister Teo.

“It is because demand for cybersecurity professionals far outstrips supply.”

“We constrain ourselves unnecessarily if we don’t tap varied sources, including women who now make up only about a quarter of the cybersecurity workforce globally.”

Here, the Government’s SG Cyber Women initiative has encouraged over 2,400 women and girls to take up roles in cybersecurity.

“This programme complements our wider efforts to attract women to join the tech sector in Singapore through the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA’s) SG Women in Tech programme,” added the Minister.

Attracting women leaders in the cyber domain is an important so too is dismantling barriers that stand in the way of women rising to the top, said Minister Teo.

“These two imperatives go hand in hand,” she explained.

“Women with leadership potential must see that they will be accepted and have opportunity to go far. Why else would they invest their time and energies in this domain?”

“We would not otherwise succeed in attracting and retaining women talents,” added the Minister.

The inaugural cohort of the Cybersecurity Strategic Leadership Programme might be one such pipeline for improving female representation. This programme aims to strengthen the knowledge, leadership, and networks of Singapore’s current and future cybersecurity leaders.

“The inaugural run of this programme saw a cohort of 21 participants, consisting mostly of C-suite level, and they are executives with experience in the cybersecurity industry, from both the public and private sectors,” said Minister Teo.

“Now in this run, there were just three women. Far too few, far lower than we would like to see,” she continued. But it’s a start.”

“Cyber will be more successful with women on board, and women can be successful in cyber. I believe that and hope that you do too,” she concluded.