The polity that is Singapore cybersecurity

by on January 3, 2017 at 10:19 am in Current Affairs, Law, Political Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

This was decided earlier in the year:

All computers used officially by public servants in Singapore will be cut off from the Internet from May next year, in an unprecedented move to tighten security.

A memo is going out to all government agencies, ministries and statutory boards here about the Internet blockade a year from now, The Straits Times has learnt.

There are some 100,000 computers in use by the public service and all of them will be affected.

“The Singapore Government regularly reviews our IT measures to make our network more secure,” a spokesman for the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said when contacted.

The move is aimed at plugging potential leaks from work e-mail and shared documents amid heightened security threats.

Trials started with some employees within the IDA – the lead agency for this exercise – as early as April. Web surfing can be done only on the employees’ personal tablets or mobile phones as these devices do not have access to government e-mail systems. Dedicated Internet terminals have been issued to those who need them for work.

The Straits Times understands that public servants will be allowed to forward work e-mails to their private accounts, if they need to.

Here is the article.  Here is Catherine Rampell on Trump and cybersecurity, she seems to be critical of what is possibly a Trump idea to have a White House without computers (without internet?).  That to me seems the only good procedural/bureaucratic idea I have heard from the incoming Trump administration.  Note that the government in Singapore is one of the smartest, forward-looking, and sophisticated in the world.  On this they are ahead of the curve (by the way I write more on the broader question here in my forthcoming The Complacent Class).

1 anon January 3, 2017 at 10:26 am

Trump did not actually limit his courier idea to Washington. He implied that if a protest escalated to a riot, a courier should be dispatched with a message for an ambassador.

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2 anon January 3, 2017 at 10:28 am

On disconnected intranets, they are fine. Fewer comments for MR though.

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3 Nodnarb the Nasty January 3, 2017 at 10:31 am

No internet, though?

How on earth will bureaucrats find happiness in their day-to-day paper shuffling routine? And aren’t the Chinese a bunch of racist hypocrites anyway?

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4 tercer hombre January 3, 2017 at 11:29 am

In 1942 the Japanese government visitors to Singapore also had a racist view of the Chinese population there.

The ‘Sook Ching’ was a systematic purge of perceived hostile elements among the civilian Chinese in Singapore by the Japanese military… during the Japanese occupation of Singapore and Malaya, after the British colony surrendered on 15 February 1942. The massacre of some 70,000 Chinese took place from 18 February to 4 March 1942 at various places… most notably Changi Beach, Punggol Beach and Sentosa.

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5 Daniel Weber January 3, 2017 at 11:47 am

Most first-world workers consider access to Facebook and Marginal Revolution necessary for their workday, but it isn’t. It’s provides modest productivity gains and modest security risks, along with making the quality of worklife better, so most employers allow it.

Major banks and other places that can get destroyed by the wrong document making its way out of (or in to) their systems work very very hard to lock down their networks. The White House has the capacity and budget, although maybe not the “screw up and you are fired” mindset required to really make the rules function.

The short form: Simply cutting the wire is not a bad place to start from.

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6 JWatts January 3, 2017 at 11:58 am

“…although maybe not the “screw up and you are fired” mindset required to really make the rules function.”

What? The next thing you’ll tell me is that you can’t run your official email off your own computer sitting at home in your bathroom.

“The short form: Simply cutting the wire is not a bad place to start from.”

Yep, simple is better.

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7 Thiago Ribeiro January 3, 2017 at 12:39 pm

What if I need to go to the bathroom while I send classified information to the Chinese?

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8 Slocum January 3, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Most first-world workers consider access to Facebook and Marginal Revolution necessary for their workday, but it isn’t.

They’ll have those things anyway, on their smart phones, regardless of whether their company’s computers are connected to the internet.

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9 Daniel Weber January 3, 2017 at 1:24 pm

This is very true, and the phone network is essentially separate, as long as no one gets stupid and sets up a mobile hotspot.

It’s harder to look like you are working when putzing around on your phone, compared to typing at your desktop.

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10 Harun January 3, 2017 at 5:01 pm

I work in China a lot, and its amazing how when you can’t access reddit or Facebook or blogs, you just sigh and open up Excel to the pricing spreadsheet and get stuff done.

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11 Kit Sunde January 5, 2017 at 7:10 am

They’ll have internet. There was backlash where the government had to clarify that governmental systems and work will happen on computers that’s on the intranet and internet connected computers will be available. It’s not a blanket ban on the internet.

How the civil service and individual organization decide to implement it in practice is a different issue though. If you want to push back as a lowly civil servant there’s so many layers to go through until you hit someone inside of IDA (now GovTech) that understands it all.

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12 chuck martel January 3, 2017 at 10:39 am

It won’t take any kind of management directive to phase out government internet communication. Elected officials and higher-level bureaucrats will gladly and voluntarily send notes to one another via unpaid interns instead of sitting in front of congressional hearings and reading about their miscues on Wikileaks releases.

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13 dearieme January 3, 2017 at 4:49 pm

Dare one let an intern anywhere near a POTUS?

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14 msgkings January 4, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Ha ha! Because presidents like to fuck them!

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15 Borjigid January 3, 2017 at 10:40 am

If Internet no longer passes the cost/benefit test, it has to go.

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16 Thiago Ribeiro January 3, 2017 at 11:06 am

Me need not no internet work, me need not no computer thing, me meself smart and knowledgeable. Me only needs Solitaire.

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17 Todd K January 3, 2017 at 11:07 am

As advances in telepathy continue at break-neck pace, the phasing out of the Internet has been obvious.

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18 aMichael January 3, 2017 at 12:03 pm

our Rogue One, WWII military technology future is arriving.

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19 prior_test2 January 3, 2017 at 12:33 pm

‘she seems to be critical of what is possibly a Trump idea to have a White House without computers (without internet?). That to me seems the only good procedural/bureaucratic idea I have heard from the incoming Trump administration.’

One can hope that such a rigorous policy would at least prevent Trump from easily accessing the nuclear C&C structure. Though it might cut into his twitter activities, so one can assume that it will not come to pass.

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20 Chip January 3, 2017 at 12:45 pm

“That to me seems the only good procedural/bureaucratic idea I have heard from the incoming Trump administration.”

WashPo: “Donald Trump’s transition team on Wednesday announced that registered state and federal lobbyists will not be allowed to serve in the Trump administration, and people who leave the administration will have to wait five years before they can become lobbyists.”

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21 Daniel Weber January 3, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Obama had something similar, and had to abandon it in practice (leaving the rule as is but allowing boatloads of exceptions), because there are too many good people you want that are excluded. I think Trump has had to do the same thing.

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22 Chip January 3, 2017 at 1:01 pm

You may be right. I’m just noting that it seems weird to say there have been no interest ideas regarding governance from the incoming administration.

Some more of Trump’s priorities from NPR:

* FIRST, propose a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress;

* SECOND, a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health);

* THIRD, a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated;

* FOURTH, a 5 year-ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service;

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23 JWatts January 3, 2017 at 2:20 pm

“* THIRD, a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated;”

If they could just manage a 1 for 1 swap with occasional exemptions, it would vastly slow the aggressive growth of the Federal regulatory code.

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24 Chip January 3, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Singapore is facing its greatest threat in decades as it seeks to maintain strong ties with the US at the same time the US becomes a weaker and less resilient influence abroad, and China seeks to pull SE Asia into its sphere of influence.

China just brazenly stole several of Singapore’s armoured vehicles on their way home from Taiwan in what is just the most public example of the tremendous amount of pressure China is applying to the city state.

That Trump might see Singapore as just another trade rival (eg. Singapore’s growing share of forex trading) rather than an important geopolitical ally is deeply worrying.

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25 Viking January 3, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Why were the military vehicles not properly registered on the shipping manifest? Did Singapore save money by using a PRC controlled ship for transportation of the vehicles, the cargo was illegal in Hong Kong, and previously allowed through a gentleman’s agreement, but one party ceased to be a gentleman?

The west has one strong tool available, recognition of Taiwan, and rejection of PRC, but that would make the last 40 years seem pretty hypocritical.

Also when piss ant nations like Kuwait and its ilk pull stunts like imprisoning women for getting raped, unrecognizing the country is really the only course of action that does not endorse the behavior. The world is worse off because the west is gutless.

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26 John January 3, 2017 at 1:27 pm

How will this work in practice? Will each office have an air-gaped data link to a separate intranet? If they are just shutting down browser access that seems unlikely to slow hacking down all that much.

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27 JWatts January 3, 2017 at 2:24 pm

“How will this work in practice? Will each office have an air-gaped data link to a separate intranet? If they are just shutting down browser access that seems unlikely to slow hacking down all that much.”

An aggressive firewall with white listed IP address access would probably eliminate a majority of the hacking concerns without completely isolating the network. The classified network is already isolated.

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28 Dan Lavatan January 3, 2017 at 8:58 pm

I worked for the US government briefly and at an agency where Internet was against policy all the pesudo-executives had modems and the administrators knew and looked the other way. So basically, the sing are asking their rank and file to bridge the networks, presumably using wifi adapters connecting to cellular hotspots and rolling their own security. Maybe it will even be more secure.

Obviously they will need to process data submitted via the web, and so those with 0 day kernel exploits will still be able to get in from the outside. It is a fairly stupid idea and the sing should know better. But maybe it will keep anyone from reading Trump’s tweets without authorization.

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29 Michael Foody January 3, 2017 at 1:54 pm

I’m interested to see how this will work. I can easily imagine this presenting more vulnerabilities than it eliminates depending on the culture that surrounds it. If people resort to using flash drives for transfer of all data this could be a big mess.

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30 Cyrus January 3, 2017 at 11:42 pm

If my employer is an indication of the way things are going, machines on the secure network lack ports for portable media. File transfer in or out of the secure network goes through an airlock of programmatic scans and manual inspection by IT, which takes between an hour and never depending on the content. It mostly works, actually.

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31 Adrian Ratnapala January 3, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Reading the tealeaves of the newspaper article is hard, but it seems to me this is just stricter than normal firewalling.

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32 Shane M January 3, 2017 at 6:05 pm

This is a setup to enable charging anyone and everyone with mishandling governmental information when trying to do their jobs. It’s as if we’re saying those in the government do not need to communicate with anyone besides themselves internally. Setting up a second computer (or tablet/phone/etc) for external communication seems reasonable, although it seems that computer would be used nearly all the time.

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33 Dan Lavatan January 3, 2017 at 8:59 pm

Even if you thought that, why not do it in a VM?

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34 TMC January 5, 2017 at 10:36 am

VM – exactly. You can set it up so the user would not even notice the difference, unless they try to download or upload something. Allow them to use the clipboard to copy and paste in, but not out.

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35 Andao January 3, 2017 at 8:00 pm

Nobody needs to check their work email outside of work hours?

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36 Adovada January 3, 2017 at 9:13 pm

Having an internet connected pc with a camera and microphone be your communication device and office assistant if you are in a sensitive position is quite literally insane.

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37 Asher January 4, 2017 at 3:20 am

Like most supposed “security” ideas, I assume the real reason for this one is to make sure people are actual doing their jobs and not goldbricking.

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38 Troll me January 4, 2017 at 4:30 am

Administration and the law are famously slow at adjusting to new realities.

You’d think that with 100 times the capacity, larger states would have been more on the ball with such things. But they seem rather too preoccupied with trying to make sure that all our personal devices have backdoors, which would leave every single person extremely vulnerably to all sorts of stuff.

I’d think there might be some concern about zero ability for whistleblowing releases, but in the case of Singapore maybe it’s not that big of a deal because it’s not going to be stuff like $125 billion in waste at the Pentagon or people getting disappeared into overseas secret prisons where lovely things happen to people.

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