TODAY Online - Internet ruling for civil servants absolutely necessary: PM

The Government had been “thinking about for a while” and had “put off for as long as possible”.


PM sees sg moving forward

As “volunteer number one”, he has been working on two separate computer systems since the start of the year, revealed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who said the Government’s decision to ban Internet access on work computers is “absolutely necessary”, to fight off increasingly intense and sophisticated cyber threats.

The move was something the Government had been “thinking about for a while” and had “put off for as long as possible”, said Mr Lee, noting the need to find “the right balance” in implementing such a measure.

On Wednesday, news broke that public service officers would not be able to access the Internet from their work computers from next May.

But they would still be able to surf the Internet on separate computers or mobile devices, either belonging to the individual or provided by their organisations.

Mr Lee, who was asked about the move during an interview with Singapore media wrapping up his official visit to Myanmar on Thursday (June 9), said he had volunteered to be the first to try out this new way of working, despite some initial reluctance.

“We have become completely dependent on our IT systems, on our computers in the office, remotely, the data systems, the services to the public, and we have to make sure that our system is secure,” said Mr Lee. “We can’t get infiltrated, data cannot be stolen, somebody can’t come in and wipe out your data or cause some other mischief.”

Despite the best precautions, intruders get in “because the intruders are very often one step smarter than you, and you have to block everywhere … they just have to get in in one place and you may not know for a long time”.

“We’ve had intrusions we know, we’ve reported some of them publicly, serious ones,” Mr Lee said. “So far we think that the damage which has been done, or the information which has been stolen, has not been disastrous. But we cannot be sure that that will not happen.”

Some ministries, such as the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some departments in the Ministry of Home Affairs, already have staff working on two computers.

“I think it’s a recognition that the Internet is a wild, wild west and we’d better know that. Otherwise, if you go out innocently thinking that all is fine, someday, something is going to happen to you. Quite likely something is happening to you and you don’t even know it,” Mr Lee said.

He acknowledged that the new way of working took some getting used to, “but you can do it”.

“So what I have done, I have an email system, I set up another one, which is for Internet browsing, and between the two you have what people call an ‘air gap separation’, meaning, this is one system, that’s one system, they don’t talk to each other,” said Mr Lee. “And hopefully no information can jump over from one side to another or from this side to that.”

Initially, he had doubts about cutting off Internet access. “I said, ‘Do you really want to do this, it’s such a nuisance to work’. But what to do? They convinced me this was a very, very serious matter,” said Mr Lee.

He acknowledged the need to ensure the move was implemented in a balanced way. “If we make our system so secure that it becomes a bother to you, then civil servants will either stop working or find some way around it,” he said. “So we’ve got to find the right balance and we’ve got to calibrate that balance as we go along.”

Source: TODAY Online

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