Anything But Regular: Hd Army Cyber Defence - LTC Chan Boon Tong

Anything But Regular: Hd Army Cyber Defence - LTC Chan Boon Tong

Defending against unseen threats: LTC Chan’s journey in Army Cyber Defence

Total Defence involves every Singaporean playing a part, individually and collectively, to build a strong, secure and cohesive nation. When we are strong, we are able to deal with any crisis. In commemorating Total Defence Day, we speak to Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Chan Boon Tong, Head of the Army Cyber Defence Branch in HQ Signals and Command Systems, who oversees the cyber governance and implementation for the Army. As part of his job, he also conducts regular cyber audits of our warfighting systems to ensure that they continue to remain robust and protected.

He explains how the work undertaken by his Branch has given him and his team a strong sense of purpose and accomplishment.

The Unseen Heroes at work

How does the Army Cyber Defence Branch operate alongside other counterparts within the defence ecosystem?

To be effective, we work closely with the Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS), more specifically the Cyber Defence Group (CDG), and act as a conduit between them and the various Army Divisions and Formations, as well as partnering relevant cyber agencies in the Defence Technology Community (DTC) for the purpose of implementing cyber tools and systems to our units. This partnership across MINDEF, the SAF and the DTC is important as good cyber protection and prevention is about ensuring that we remain tightly integrated and leave as little gaps as possible, given that perpetrators only need one opening or opportunity to infiltrate our systems. My Branch also partners with the SAF Cyber Defence School in the training of the Army’s cyber defenders. We develop training manuals, as well as formalise processes and procedures to allow our cyber defenders to be effective in defending our systems. 

LTC Chan having a casual chat with his staff outside their office.

How has your experience in Army Cyber Defence Branch been?

Having been in this role for more than a year, I would say my work has been very exciting and rewarding. Despite knowing that cyber threats were very real and pervasive in our world today, I was nonetheless surprised by how sophisticated the threats were, and how innovative and creative the perpetrators have become. What this means is that we cannot stay complacent or rely on tried and tested methods alone. We must continually think a few steps ahead so that we can keep up with all the emerging cyber threats.

An Ever-Evolving World

LTC Chan (far right) at Cyber Quest 23 with cyber representatives from other countries to share ideas, concerns and implementation challenges on cyber defence.

Why is Cyber Defence important in today’s world and how does your team keep your skills sharpened?

Technology has become an integral part of our daily lives and much of the convenience and efficiency we enjoy today is premised on networks and connectivity. As our dependence on technology increases, so does our vulnerability to cyberattacks. Hence, having a robust cyber defence will not only protect our systems, but also enable us to retain our ability to use these technologies.

To keep ourselves abreast of the latest developments in the cyber domain, I always encourage my team to read widely and be tuned into the incessant developments of the cyber domain, not just in cyber tools development, but also the new ways in which cyber-crimes are committed. Many overseas and local cyber conferences help in this regard as they bring cyber practitioners together to share experiences and best practices. Beyond this, I always tell my team that they need to get their hands dirty in picking up skills and expertise in all areas of cyber.

LTC Chan looking at exhibitions on systems and solutions developed by vendors and defence industries at Cyber Quest 23.

What are some of the lessons you have learnt during your time as Hd Army Cyber Defence Branch?

My key takeaway is that regardless of how sophisticated our systems can be, our people remains both our best asset and also the weakest (or crucial) link in cyber security. As Head Army Cyber Defence Branch, I have witnessed how even a simple error or act of carelessness of an individual can lead to dire consequences. I recall an incident where a person did not follow a simple rule of using a designated system to scan a flash guard before he transferred a file, leading to malware being introduced into the system. 

On a related note, one of the biggest challenges is also about making cyber education useful and effective for our people. Due to the relatively covert nature of cyber threats, people do not see the dangers posed in a visceral sense. As such, there is a tendency to trivialise its effects. Having a young generation that learns things in a different way today also means that we must keep up with times – in terms of how we educate our people. When we put these together, education remains challenging as we need to make it real, make it interesting and make it useful for our people. I believe that educating our people well will go a long way in building a strong cyber defence. 

LTC Chan at the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) 22 Exercise.

The Future of our Country's Cyber Security

Looking forward, what is the direction that you would like our Army Cyber Defence community to move towards?

As cyber threats grow and intensify, it is important for our Army Cyber community to be ahead of the knowledge curve by upgrading our skills, picking up experiences in live cyber missions and making sure that cyber awareness is constantly emphasised. We will continue to strengthen the Ops-tech partnership between our servicemen and defence partners to develop systems that are resilient to cyber threats, and pressing on with our efforts to build a cyber-savvy workforce.

LTC Chan and his branch visiting the US Cyber Ops Centre.

If you had to explain it to others, what makes your job truly #AnythingButRegular?

Many would think that an Army career revolves around guns, tanks and enemies – more on the physical domain. However, my job is almost the direct opposite of that – I fight in the digital domain against unseen enemies and I constantly have to learn how to use new weapons, or cyber tools, so that I can be effective against an enemy that I cannot see and one that might operate from across the world. 

For Total Defence Day, do you have any last thoughts about serving in the Army to defend Singapore?

There is a Total Defence song that has the words “there’s a part for everyone”. Indeed, all of us must first know what we can bring to the table, but more importantly, we must also be willing to put in our best. We might not always do the glamorous missions or be in the limelight, but we must always do what we need to do well. Only then can Total Defence work and by extension, Singapore’s peace and security be secured!

✍🏻: LCP Ryan Liew (Army News)
📸: LCP Andre Lim (Army News) and contributed by LTC Chan