(Bloomberg) -- Singapore will set up a new wing of its armed forces dedicated to digital security with a minister saying the Russia-Ukraine war, which has included cyberattacks, shows the need to build the country’s own defenses against external threats.
Addressing parliament on Wednesday, Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said the Singapore Armed Forces would establish a so-called “fourth service,” meant to integrate and expand the city-state’s capabilities in the digital domain.
“As good and as ambitious as the next generation SAF is, there are some gaps and capabilities, which recent events and developments warned us against,” he said. “And I’m talking primarily about threats in the digital domain.”
The new military cyber service will be set up by the last quarter of the year and should help Singapore “deal effectively with digital threats from external aggressors that we expect will grow in numbers, sophistication and organization,” Ng said. This may require, “a few brigades, perhaps even a division size force.”
The move comes as hackers with a wide range of allegiances have taken up digital arms in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The unfolding events in Ukraine have resonated with Singapore, which has said in the past that it is vulnerable to cyberattacks, fake news and hostile information campaigns because it is a small but open financial hub.
Last year, the government passed a controversial foreign interference bill aimed at preventing foreign entities or individuals from influencing politics in the country. It also gives the authority to order social media platforms like Facebook and internet service providers to disclose information behind harmful content suspected of being carried out by foreign actors.
I thank members of this House for their commitment and support for a robust national defence through a strong SAF. This year particularly because of events in Ukraine, Singaporeans need less convincing that it is our responsibility to keep Singapore safe and secure. #SGBudget2022— Ng Eng Hen (@Ng_Eng_Hen) March 2, 2022
Singapore has been subject to cyberattacks. In 2018, the government said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s personal particulars were targeted in a “major” cyberattack on the database of the country’s biggest public healthcare group.
The Straits Times newspaper cited Defense Minister Ng as saying that while intelligence sources haven’t identified orchestrated attempts to subvert Singapore using a combination of physical and virtual attacks just like in Ukraine, it doesn’t mean that the threat will never come. “I think we best prepare now with a longer runway,” he said.