Speech by Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, Senior Minister of State for Defence, at Tableau Software Public Sector Day

Speech by Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, Senior Minister of State for Defence, at Tableau Software Public Sector Day

A very good morning ladies and gentlemen, I am very delighted to join you at this year's Tableau Public Sector Day, an annual conference that brings our Public Service together with industry experts to learn, share, and exchange ideas.


Much has been said about data. Data analytics is really one of the key words, amongst the millennials particularly. Data has been described as the new normal. It is an immensely valuable commodity on which our digital economy is built upon. Data, as a resource, has low barriers to entry and is not limited by any physical constraints. As a country with limited natural resources, we all know Singapore must tap on this resource and use it to our advantage. For the Public Service, this means that using data to enhance our public policy making and service delivery is useful and important as we improve the lives of Singaporeans. And I want to reaffirm again that it is really to improve the lives of Singaporeans and that is what our role is as the Public Service.    

It is hence very fitting that the Public Service is building up the data science and analytics capabilities amongst our officers. At the launch of the Digital Government Blueprint last year, we committed to training 20,000 Public Service officers in data skills by 2023. Through building up the skills of our people, the Public Service will work towards having a digitally-confident workforce, employed in digitally-enabled workplaces.

The digital age is also an age of participation and co-creation. The Singapore Government has taken big strides to make data available and accessible on numerous data-sharing websites, to encourage all Singaporeans to create solutions for the greater good. Anyone now can access data.gov.sg to tap on datasets from 70 public agencies and real-time Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to build applications. Such open sharing of data has given us creations such as Beeline, Singapore's first crowd-sourced transportation platform.

All these efforts are in line with our aim of being a Smart City and a Smart Nation. Through laying the infrastructure and policy foundations, we can work together to develop a world-class digital city and home.


As we grow as a Smart Nation, digital technology will become increasingly embedded in how we live, work, and play. While we aim to harness the power of digital technologies to improve lives, we must remain acutely aware of the threats brought about by the same capabilities when exploited by others for insidious purposes.

The inter-connectedness brought about by digital technology has made us more vulnerable to cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, and of course fake news. The Singapore Threat Report just released by cybersecurity firm Carbon Black reported that, out of 250 local business executives surveyed, only 4% said that their organisations had not been attacked – just imagine, only 4% said that they had not been attacked. Over 90% reported that there had been a rise in cyberattack volume, and that the breaches were becoming more sophisticated. Last year, we experienced Singapore's worst data breach, where the data of 1.5 million patients was stolen in the cyberattack on SingHealth.

All around the world, there is an increasing trend of cyberattacks in all forms with an expanded scale and intensified impact. The WannaCry ransomware caused up to US$8 billion in damage in May 2017. One of the largest agencies affected was the UK's National Health Service. Ministries in Russia and Romania, State Governments of India, and even the Chinese public security bureau were affected. Companies like FedEx, Hitachi, Honda and Nissan, were also not spared. Shortly after this, in June 2017, the NotPetya malware spread and caused almost US$10 billion of damages. Ukrainian ministries, banks and metros were also affected. Many companies worldwide also fell prey, such as British advertising company WPP, American pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., and German logistics company DHL.

The WannaCry and NotPetya examples show that cyberattacks can have serious international economic impact. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank based in Washington D.C., estimated in their 2018 report that computer security breaches cost the global economy around US$600b annually – which is 0.8% of the global economy.

Aside from economic damage, cyberattacks can also lead to social and political disruption. In 2007, Estonia came under a major cyberattack from Russia. ATMs and banking services shut down sporadically, government emails were jammed, and media outlets' news reporting was disrupted. Fake news reports rallied protestors to take to the streets, culminating in riots and looting that caused one death and numerous casualties. More recently, the Mueller report observed how Russia had made use of cyber hacks and social media tools to manipulate the 2016 US Presidential Election in a sweeping and systematic fashion.

Even in Singapore, we have experienced social disruptions due to fake news online. Earlier last year, angry netizens went after Green Delights, a halal-certified Yong Tau Foo store, when pictures of the stall's halal sign along with photos of pork dishes were spread on Facebook and WhatsApp. Netizens were very quick to criticise the stall, with some even making racially-sensitive comments. It turned out that the advertisement for pork dishes was actually from a neighbouring stall. Unfortunately, the stall's business had already been affected by that. This is just a simple example of how things can go out of hand.

It is clear that threats from the digital domain have the potential to disrupt our way of life and undermine our social cohesion, our inter-racial and inter-religious harmony. Cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns and fake news could shake the confidence and psychological resilience of our citizens. The sweeping cyberattacks of 2007 mobilised not just the Estonian Government to strengthen their cyber defences, but also Estonian citizens to volunteer their IT expertise to defend their country on the digital front. Similarly, every Singaporean has a part to play in strengthening our defences against threats from the digital domain.

Earlier this year, we added the sixth pillar of Digital Defence to the existing five pillars of Total Defence. So it is not a coincidence that the largest number of attendees today come from the Ministry of Defence. Digital Defence means being vigilant against threats from the digital domain, and being ready to respond to cyberattacks and disinformation. We must have effective recovery plans to be resilient in the face of cyberattacks and challenges. The Singapore Government has taken steps to safeguard our networks and systems through implementing the Cybersecurity Act and building up a strong core of cybersecurity professionals. We have also initiated campaigns to enhance digital literacy and raise Singaporeans' awareness of the threat of disinformation. At the individual level, you can contribute to Digital Defence by practicing good cyber hygiene to protect your personal and work-related data. Also, when encountering questionable information online, you should also use good judgement to identify efforts to spread untruths and actively correct any deliberate online falsehoods.

All Singaporeans, as individuals, community groups, and businesses, need to recognise that we are the first line of defence against such threats from the digital domain. At the same time, while the public service continues on its journey of innovation and digitalisation, we must not forget that there are segments of our society that take a longer time to adapt. We should encourage and enable those who are less digitally savvy to acquire basic digital skills, for instance, our elderly population. I know many of us here are public servants, and we are developing many, many new applications, but please remember that there are people out there who take a longer time to be familiar with some of these new technologies. Let us also remember that our society is multilingual, and that our digital public service should be designed to meet the needs of all Singaporeans, regardless of language and age.The Government is developing a multilingual digital services policy in line with this thrust of inclusivity. For example, as of last October, Singapore citizens have been able to check their CPF balances and apply for their HDB's EASE programme, or the Enhancement for Active Seniors grant in all four languages. Simply because we know this is an area where many seniors are very much interested in and are involved in, and of course we have to look at various other aspects and various other applications. It is only when we cater to the diverse needs of our citizens, that can we stride into the digital age together, as a nation.

So today, you are playing your part in Digital Defence. In seeking to learn from each other and from the industry, you are growing the Public Service's expertise and capabilities in the digital domain. I hope that this conference and discussions will spark ideas on how we can use data for the public good, especially to strengthen digital defence and security. Ultimately, our vision of a Smart Nation is to give our citizens the best home possible, with a Smart Government that is responsive to our citizens' diverse and changing needs. You have an important role to play in this journey to strengthen the functions of the Public Service and the Government.


I want to encourage all of you to make full use of occasions like today to explore opportunities, develop ideas, and innovate within the digital domain. Together with industry players like Tableau, we can work towards a digitally-enabled Public Service that can strengthen Digital Defence and create a better Singapore for all Singaporeans. I wish you a very fruitful day for this Public Sector Day. I look forward to greater innovations from all of you for the Public Sector. Thank you, have a pleasant day.

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