Cyberspace is the new fifth domain of warfare and the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) is pulling all stops to boost its cyber defence capabilities.
The ministry announced two new cyber expert schemes and opened a cyber defence training school at Stagmont Camp on 20 Feb.
The former consist of the non-uniformed Defence Cyber Expert (DCX) job specialisation and the uniformed Command, Control, Communications and Computers Expert (C4X) vocation. The latter is the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Cyber Defence School (CDS), which will be the centre for cyber defence training and education across MINDEF and the SAF.
Deployed to defend MINDEF's and the SAF's systems and network, these DCX and C4X personnel will perform specialised operational roles in areas such as cyber incident response, network monitoring, vulnerability assessment and penetration testing. They will also work together with the Cyber Full-Time National Servicemen (NSFs) to strengthen MINDEF's and the SAF's cyber workforce.
Besides operational roles, these personnel can also be deployed for planning, policymaking and long-term capability development – all to counter or take advantage of the evolving cyber environment.
C4X personnel will also specialise in military cyber operations and develop a deep understanding of SAF's military systems and networks.
Both C4X and DCX personnel will be trained in technical skills such as threat hunting, malware forensics, cryptography, network security and cyber analytics, based on the operational roles they are assigned. They will receive in-house training as well as go through industry-recognised professional courses.
The DCX scheme was implemented at end of last year, while the C4X will be implemented by middle of this year. MINDEF aims to recruit about 300 cyber defenders.
Defence Executive Officer Serena Ong, who was emplaced in the DCX scheme last November, felt that cybersecurity was an exciting field to be in.
"As threats are always growing and evolving quickly and continuously…we have to constantly keep ourselves updated on the constant trends and development. It's very challenging, there are always new things to learn and new cyber threats to deal with," said the 31-year-old cyber open source intelligence manager from MINDEF's Defence Cyber Organisation.
She added that with the shortage of cybersecurity professionals, the DCX scheme can help widen the pool of candidates as training is provided to make up for the lack of cyber qualifications. Those without the relevant credentials must still pass the cyber selection test though.
Similarly for the C4X scheme, Military Expert (ME) 4 S Subash was impressed by the opportunities to attain certifications and qualifications to better defend MINDEF's and SAF's cyber network.
"Our training programme will teach us how to analyse, detect and contain threats. We will also go through external courses and receive commercial certification to keep ourselves up to date with the evolving threats," said the 30-year-old staff officer from the SAF C4 Command.
Speaking on the sidelines of hosting an Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) visit to the camp, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said cyber defence is a rapidly evolving field and it is crucial for MINDEF and the SAF to ready themselves as effective national defenders.
"We are a networked force…but this also opens us up to the vulnerability of being attacked through cyber means. This is why we have set up this capability, in order to defend our system and ensure that they are resilient against these attacks and (we are) operationally ready…so that we can protect our sovereignty and give peace of mind to Singaporeans."
During the visit, ACCORD was briefed on MINDEF's cyber defence set-up and observed incident response team training.
Strengthening cyber defence training facilities
Since its set up in April 2018, the SAF CDS has conducted one run of the Cyber Defence Operator Course (CDOC) and is now conducting the Cyber Specialist Cadet Course (CSCC).
The CDOC is conducted over four to eight weeks and will equip the trainees with cyber foundation skills. The CSCC is a 35-week programme which will equip the trainees with both cyber foundation and advanced skills. The latter batch of trainees will graduate in August.
The school will be expanding its cyber training to include both C4X and DCX personnel.
Beyond vocational training, the SAF CDS also conducts cybersecurity workshops for MINDEF and SAF staff to raise cyber awareness and practise cyber hygiene.
To experience realistic training, trainees will attend advanced cyber defence training and exercises at the SAF's Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre (CyTEC). Implemented in 2015, this facility has the capability to simulate realistic cyberattacks with varying levels of intensity and sophistication to test cyber defenders' skillsets and responses.
CyTEC also supports evaluation exercises for CDS trainees and conducts refresher training for Operationally Ready National Servicemen cyber defenders.
After viewing the cyberattack scenarios in CyTEC, Member of Parliament for Aljunied and ACCORD member Sylvia Lim was impressed by MINDEF and SAF's efforts towards cyber defence.
"I'm quite impressed with the resources poured in and the thinking-through of how it's important for us to protect the critical systems used by our armed forces and the data that resides within the organisation," said Ms Lim.
"However, how effective we are remains to be seen as the challenges faced today are on a global level…and we need to attract people with cutting-edge abilities."
Chief Executive and Principal of Temasek Polytechnic and fellow ACCORD member, Mr Peter Lam, was glad to see the digital capabilities that the SAF has put in place to defend Singapore.
"It's heartening to see committed and passionate servicemen who are trained as cyber warriors. Most of them are NSFs and they will benefit from the training, not just in terms of professional development after their National Service but when they're contributing as servicemen to the defence of our country."