Singapore first in the world to separate public servants’ Internet access

From ‘Buzz over delinking govt PCs from the Web’, 12 June 2016, article by Carolyn Khew, Sunday Times

Probably the first country to do so, Singapore’s decision to delink its government computers from the Internet could spur other nations to take a similar step.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday that since The Straits Times reported last week that 100,000 government computers will no longer have direct access to the Web from next May, other countries have expressed interest.

“You’ll be very surprised at the kind of responses I received from my counterparts. They want to know how we do it,” he said. “In fact, I was seated at a dinner and one of the ambassadors said ‘We were surprised that you decided to do it and we want to learn from you because we think this should be done’.”

…”At the end of the day, as the custodian of data concerning our citizens and because of national interests, we have to make sure that we can protect that, right?” said Dr Yaacob. “We are constantly under attack…and the hackers are becoming more sophisticated.”

I’m not surprised that Singapore is taking the lead with this ‘novel’ approach to safeguarding data, but Minister Yaacob not revealing which country the interested ambassadors hail from is telling.  Somalia? Syria? Iran? North Korea? Trust the media to pour more consolatory salve on our wounds by emphasising on how other countries think this genius move will thwart hackers the world over. What a shining example we are, a future-ready Smart nation where ‘no one will be left behind’. It’s like the wonder strategy of banning chewing gum. See how smoothly our trains doors have open and shut since. So proud to be a citizen of this role-model nation.

A lot has been said about how this measure is ‘inconvenient but necessary’, but so is taking the bus. Our Ministers may do just fine with split terminals, but asking them to take public transport to work because it’s ‘inconvenient, but workable and just needs getting used to’, is unlikely to make them ditch the car keys. The hackers have gotten more ‘sophisticated’, but we’re using a blunt instrument to get things done. Logic and the history of technological arm races will tell you that the more ‘sophisticated’ ones will find a way around our backward hammer and chisel methods eventually. The hackers will run circles around us like a cool AF geek taunting a dumb blonde.

Which makes this whole IT policy similar to a passive-aggressive dictator boyfriend. He wants to give you space but yet controls who you hang out with. Just look at some quotable quotes from the MCI Minister just early this year about our Smart Nation initiatives vs PM Lee’s defence of this – in his own words – ‘nuisance’.

The platform will support sensor-based services and smart system solutions, and facilitate greater sharing of data to improve Government operations and the delivery of public services. -Yaacob in Jan 16

We’ve decided to do it. Are we happy? I don’t think so, because it will slow us down in terms of day-to-day productivity. In terms of security, safety of our systems, safety of our citizens and information concerning them – it’s absolutely necessary. – PM Lee in June 16

So how, my dear sirs, do we improve Government operations if our productivity will be slowed down?

The possibilities are endless if we put our mind together to share ideas, experiment and co-create solutions to empower our society in our Smart Nation journey. – Vivian Balakrishnan in Jan 16

Through regular dialogues and surveys, we aim to better understand our people’s concerns and aspirations so as to develop policies and programmes that will improve their quality of life. We will also improve our capabilities in whole-of-Government crisis communications – Yaacob in Jan 16

By co-create, you mean brainstorming among yourselves without consulting affected public officers, and then coming up with a painful decision because I’m the Government and I say so and this is for our own bloody good and we’ll all explode and die from cyber attacks if we don’t do it. This is not an experiment, folks. This is set in stone. As stone as the Stone Age. This is what co-creation means in simple layman terms. I create. You obey. ‘Co-creation’ between pharaohs and slaves is what made the Pyramids great. And look how great Singapore is that other people want to copy us.

We will develop the cybersecurity ecosystem in Singapore, and grow cybersecurity talent and manpower. We will also seek international cooperation on cybersecurity to overcome the transnational nature of cyber threats, and work with the private sector to raise public awareness of the importance of cybersecurity – Yaacob in Jan 16

O…K. So this is what the proposed Cybersecurity Bill will look like, described in one single page for succinctness.

Turn off the Internet from Government PCs, stupid

Cybersecurity sounds like a whole high-tech cloak and dagger, biosensor-equipped, eyeball-scanning  infrastruture right out of Men in Black but it’s really this one guy sitting at the console guarding the ‘off’ switch with a baton and a handphone for surfing the Web separately. Ingenious.

It takes 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. And hopefully no information can jump over from one side to another or from this side to that. – PM Lee in June 16

Looks like this ‘air gap separation’ doesn’t just exist between our PCs and the Internet. The authorities never ‘talked’ to the users either. I suppose that’s the way a future-ready system is supposed to be, having a lot of air gap separations. Or ‘lobangs’ in other words. Lobangs that our sophisticated hackers are only too eager to exploit.

‘At the end of the day’, there’s nothing that public officers can do except complain and bite the bullet. And then get lead poisoning from swallowing too much.

 

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