Cyber Security Expert Reveals How Vulnerable Singaporeans Really Are to Cyber Attacks

Jeff Cuellar



Do you think that rising Inflation, CPF account worries, retirement, immigration concerns, cutthroat workplaces and a horrible work/life balance are the only issues you should be worrying about?

I wish I could say that those were the only insomnia inducing problems worth thinking about – but that wouldn’t be true. Because but there’s another major issue that should concern you just as much as the headline-grabbing problems you see every day on TV or your social media news feed.

I’m talking about the issue of cyber security in Singapore. If you’ve read our articles on the growing cyber crime problem in Singapore and ways to prevent hackers from getting to your hard earned cash, you’ll see why it’s a huge problem that deserves more attention.

That’s why we interviewed Lawrance Lai, Partner, Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services at EY Singapore so he could explain just how vulnerable Singapore companies really are to cyber attacks.


How much has cybercrime increased over the last few years in Southeast Asia?

The amount of cybercrime in Southeast Asia has increased almost as fast as the growth of internet use in the region, and it’s only increasing every year.

On the positive side, right now it’s not just the Singapore government that recognizes the importance of combating cybercrime in the region – ASEAN is also stepping up to the challenge.

Recently on 27 May, it finalized the ASEAN cybercrime roadmap that will increase regional cooperation and on dealing with this growing problem.


Who are the primary targets of cyber attacks? What are hackers after?

That depends. If you’re talking about the average hacker who is looking to steal personal or financial data that he or she can sell online. For most hackers, the end objective is simple – money.

Typically, hackers will target banks, financial institutions, or retailers to get high-value data.

Some hackers do it simply to test their skills to build up their reputations among the hacking community.

Then there are the organized groups of hackers, which pose an even more dangerous threat to MNCs, banks, financial institutions, and government agencies.

The motivations for these organized groups of hackers to target such large organizations can vary from espionage to publicity.


How scared should Singaporeans be about cybercrime?

Absolutely – Singaporeans should be scared. The fact that Singapore is global financial and technology hub makes it a prime target.

Many Singaporeans are actually unaware of how dangerous this threat is. That’s because they haven’t felt the pain of it yet.

So many Singaporeans simply believe that because it doesn’t personally affect them, they shouldn’t be concerned. But all you have to do is look at how cybercrime is affecting the West to get a glimpse at what’s heading our way.


In 2012, Asia’s “safest” bank was hacked, with 200 customers losing up to $1,000 each. Do you think we can expect more such incidents in the future?

I think hackers will continue to test their limits in breaching even the most “secure” companies. It’s inevitable.

How quickly these security breaches can be discovered and identified really depends on having the forensic data analytics (FDA) capability to run diagnostics and analyze big data – that will help companies discover where breaches are occurring and what data cybercriminals are after.


What can Singaporeans do to protect themselves from cybercrime?

At the consumer level, the simplest thing you can do is to take preventative measures such as constantly changing your passwords and choosing complex passwords that contain numbers, letters, and symbols.

Also, be wary of suspicious emails, even if they come from an “official “source, as these may be phishing scams.

Having good anti-virus software is another good way to mitigate cybercrime risks, as they can protect you from malware, worms, and viruses.


What can Singapore companies and government agencies do to protect themselves?

The best way for organizations to move forward is to take a more strategic, real-time approach to dealing with security breaches.

Unfortunately, many companies take an ad-hoc, piecemeal approach to dealing with cyber security that often leaves them vulnerable to hackers.

Even worse, some companies aren’t updating their cyber security measures fast enough – and that’s dangerous considering the cyber security threat is constantly evolving.

Cybercrime evolves so quickly, it’s always a catch-up exercise. So cyber security should always be evolving as well.

You need the right diagnostic and analysis tool and expertise to protect yourself.

If I were to give Singapore companies and government agencies three priorities to take care of, it would be:

  1. To improve the critical infrastructure
  2. To increase homegrown cyber security talent
  3. To develop and improve the cyber security ecosystem

In short, you need a real-time, comprehensive system and the professionals to identify and combat cyber threats to have optimal cyber security.


Final Note: What I found most interesting from my conversation with Lawrance Lai was just how never-ending the cyber security game is. Hackers are evolving their attacks almost as fast as companies can stop them.

It’s all just a catch-up game. Thankfully, Singapore is on the right track to protecting user data in the future with its 5-year cyber security masterplan. At least Singapore is on the right track to dealing with this dangerous threat.


How safe do you feel about the security of your personal data? Do you think the government is doing enough to prevent major hacking incidents such as those in the West? Share them with us on Facebook! For even more useful information on everything personal finance, visit MoneySmart today!

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Jeff Cuellar

I'm known by many titles: copywriter, published author, literary connoisseur, ex- U.S. Army intelligence analyst, and Champion of Capua.