Speech by Senior Minister of State for Defence Mr Zaqy Mohamad at the Sentinel Programme Official Launch on 20 Jan 2024, 1300hrs, at Temasek Polytechnic

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Speech by Senior Minister of State for Defence Mr Zaqy Mohamad at the Sentinel Programme Official Launch on 20 Jan 2024, 1300hrs, at Temasek Polytechnic

Distinguished Guests

Chief of Digital and Intelligence Service, Major-General Lee Yi-Jin

Friends, Teachers, Parents, and Students

It is my pleasure to join all of you here today for the official launch of the Sentinel Programme.

First and foremost, my heartfelt congratulations to all students who have successfully completed the Sentinel Challenge earlier this morning.

Through a series of challenges, our 130 students learnt about web vulnerabilities and the importance of implementing sound cybersecurity measures to protect privileged database services. It certainly was not easy, but you have achieved your mission objectives. Well done, let's give them a round of applause!

I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to our partners from MOE, CSA, IMDA, all educators here as well, teachers, and everyone involved in co-creating the Sentinel Programme with us.

CURRENT SECURITY ENVIRONMENT IN TODAY'S DIGITAL WORLD

Five years ago, on 15 February 2019, Digital Defence was added as the sixth pillar of our nation's concept of Total Defence.

It was a necessary step then, to raise our people's awareness and Singapore's ability to safeguard against the increased threats online, as we worked towards our ambition to be a Smart Nation.

Today, we are growing our digital economy to create more opportunities for our people, transforming into a digital government to deliver better services, and improving the digital readiness of Singaporeans for all to enjoy the benefits of technology.

Accelerated developments in the tech realm have resulted in our lives, our social circles and even our assets – that also includes your bank accounts – being increasingly connected to the digital space.

To reap the benefits of the digital age, we must pay heed to the seemingly invisible threats in the cyberspace, and safeguard our digital realm.

The world of cybersecurity is one that is dynamic and complex, marked by constant emergence of new, sophisticated threats, and the continuous improvement of existing ones. We can even think of scams and spam as part of this ecosystem too.

For this reason, the SAF established a fourth service in 2022, known as the Digital and Intelligence Service, or DIS for short, and this is to defend Singapore against threats in the digital domain.

THE IMPORTANT ROLE OF YOUTHS IN THE DIGITAL DOMAIN

However, the responsibility of digital defence cannot rest solely on the shoulders of established cybersecurity professionals, whether they are in government, academia or the wider technology industry.

Our youth, all of you here, the digital natives of today, play an important role as well.

As our nation's founding father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, once said, "Without a strong defence, there is no Singapore"

Similarly, without our youth today taking up the mantle to defend Singapore's cyberspace, we will not have a strong core of cyber defenders in future to defend Singapore.

Therefore, it is imperative that we invest in our youth, who will eventually assume critical roles in defending our digital way of life.

THE SENTINEL PROGRAMME

Earlier in 2022, the DIS launched a pilot Sentinel Programme to equip our youth in selected schools with cybersecurity and digital skills that empower them to play a role in Singapore's digital defence.

Many students who participated had positive experiences through the programme. For example, Ms Sun Chenyuan, a student from Nanyang Girls' High School reflected that she had learnt interesting skills that are applicable to daily life, such as how encryption and web security works. She said that she also learnt how to think out of the box, by applying what she had learnt to practical challenges and applications. And I think the point about thinking out of the box is very important, because we are not dealing with a static adversary, but one that is always consciously thinking of how they could outsmart you and steal the assets that you have.

We want more students to experience Ms Sun's learning journey and extend the programme to more students nationwide. Beyond educational exposure, this can strengthen Singapore's digital defence in the long term.

This brings us to why we are all here today for the official launch of the Sentinel Programme.

The Sentinel Programme is a talent development programme and the first of its kind in Singapore to equip youth with digital and cybersecurity skills. The Programme provides regular training sessions, access to cybersecurity professionals as well as competitive platforms, and other developmental opportunities.

You may view it as an "Accelerator" for youths wanting to excel in cybersecurity.

In this "Accelerator", youths can jumpstart their journey into the digital domain by learning practical skills and knowledge.

Students will learn real-world cybersecurity skills in topics such as web programming, network forensics, and penetration testing.

These topics were introduced in the pilot programme and were well-received by the students.

For example, Mr Koh Le On, a student from Commonwealth Secondary School, delved into JavaScript and HTML coding during the programme. He said that the skills he acquired had not only broadened his knowledge, but also sparked a genuine passion for the field, surprising even himself.

We are glad that this has been a meaningful experience for Le On, and we hope that his interest in cybersecurity will only continue to grow.

In terms of career prospects, the Sentinel Programme will also encourage students to view cybersecurity as a viable and meaningful career path. Whether they serve in the SAF or in other industries, I think we are keen to provide a platform and opportunity so that you can be meaningful cyber citizens in Singapore – whether you serve in the SAF or defending us through the civilian sectors.

Students will have opportunities to be mentored by cybersecurity professionals in the defence cyber industry.

They will also get to go for industry site visits at various agencies to experience what life is like as a cybersecurity professional.

Mr Enzo Yap, a student who participated in the pilot Sentinel Programme at Ngee Ann Secondary School for the past two years, said that the wide array of Sentinel activities has helped to cultivate his passion for cybersecurity.

I am heartened to know that Enzo has been admitted into Temasek Polytechnic, right here, to do a Diploma in Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics through the early admissions exercise and will be starting school this year.

Well done, Enzo, and well done, all participants.

But beyond academic and career pursuits, the Sentinel Programme also aims to impart the right values to our youth, who will be our future cyber defenders.

Youths will learn about the ethics of cybersecurity applications, to ensure that responsible and proper use of knowledge and skillsets in the digital world are used for good.

This can in turn help to foster a culture of responsible digital citizenship in our students. Having met Mrs Lorraine Neo just now, the Teacher-in-charge of the Infocomm Club CCA at Raffles Institution, she told me that the programme allowed her students to appreciate the ethical responsibilities associated with cybersecurity, to promote a culture of responsible and conscientious digital citizenship. Thank you for sharing this, Mrs Neo.

So indeed, this is our ambition for the programme — for our students to not only strive for technical proficiency in cybersecurity, but to also be keenly aware that we all have an important role to play here in Singapore in the digital cyberspace.

CLOSING REMARKS

It is encouraging to hear the many positive reviews of the pilot programme so far, and we will need more brilliant young minds to join us on this journey of protecting our digital spaces.

It is with great pleasure that I announce the launch of the Sentinel Programme nationwide.

Applications are now open to all Secondary 1 students, and Year 1 students from Junior Colleges, Polytechnics and ITEs. So please spread the word for your friends to join.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our partners from MOE and MCI, partner schools, and teachers, for your continued support in making the Sentinel Programme a successful one. And of course, our dear colleagues from the DIS for making this wonderful for everyone.

Lastly, congratulations to all students again for walking the journey with us, and for being our very first Sentinels!

I wish you the very best in your academic and future endeavours.

Thank you and have a wonderful year ahead. Thank you.

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