Opening Address by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean at TechX Summit, 5 April 2022 at 9.00am at The Theatre at Mediacorp
A Safer World Through Science and Technology
Minister K Shanmugam,
Minister Josephine Teo,
Minister of State Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim,
Mr Chew Hock Yong, Chairman, Home Team Science and Technology Agency,
Mr Chan Tsan, Chief Executive,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning. Welcome to the inaugural TechX Summit. I am pleased to be here today, at the HTX’s first science and technology conference.
This TechX Summit brings together thought leaders from around the world to discuss challenges and exchange ideas on technology trends transforming the homeland security landscape.
Technology itself has enabled us to gather today to overcome the challenges that COVID has posed. We are meeting in hybrid format – in-person here in Singapore, as well as virtually with friends from around the world.
Technology – A Double-Edged Sword
The challenges and threats faced by the global homeland security community are increasingly varied and complex. They range from international terrorism and self-radicalisation, to transnational organized crime, foreign interference, digital crime and online scams.
Technology has helped us to deter and prevent crime in the physical world. But technology is also a double-edged sword as it has enabled new crimes in the cyber world. Let me talk about both aspects.
Technology has helped homeland security and law enforcement agencies to break the cycle of physical crime by improving our capabilities for detection, apprehension and conviction. Security camera recordings were critical in apprehending the suspects for major terrorist incidents, such as the London Bombings in 2005 and Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. But in a more prosaic way, it helped us to break the back of harassment cases arising from illegal moneylending in Singapore. Forensic science allows us to use DNA to exonerate or convict persons for crimes that occurred years or even decades ago. It helps children who have been reported as missing to be reunited with their parents. The use of these tech-enabled capabilities to improve our detection, apprehension and conviction, has also helped to break the cycle of physical crime through better deterrence because criminals know they can be caught.
Homeland security agencies have also leveraged more sophisticated technology, such as big data, artificial intelligence and data analytics, to strengthen our sense-making, our command and control systems to tackle crime more effectively and speedily. By improving our coordination and sense-making capabilities, we are able to understand crime and improve our response. By applying predictive analytics and machine learning to big data, the Police may be able to identify where violent crimes may happen next and adjust their ground deployment and plans accordingly. Facial recognition technology and algorithms that enable real time image and video processing can greatly help in sieving through CCTV recordings. Automatic number plate recognition, for example, has helped a great deal in dealing with stolen cars. In Singapore, our island-wide network of Police Cameras, or Polcam, enables our Police to sense-make and respond faster to incidents happening in real time, thereby deterring crime and significantly reducing the time taken to solve crime. To date, Polcam has helped the Singapore Police Force solve more than 6,000 cases in Singapore.
Beyond deterrence and crime solving, technology can also facilitate the rehabilitation of criminals. For example, electronic tagging provides an intermediate alternative between incarceration in a facility and release of inmates. Providing opportunities to adjust earlier to living as responsible citizens, while having effective supervision, can help lower the likelihood of re-offending, and more effectively break the cycle of violence and crime in individuals as well as in our community.
Technology has also helped our homeland security agencies to improve reliability and trust. For example, many countries including Singapore have introduced body-worn cameras for police officers, to strengthen transparency and accountability with our communities. Video evidence provides a speedy, clear and fair way of determining what took place between police officers and citizens, especially in complex or high-intensity interactions. It also deters aggressive behaviour and de-escalates confrontational situations. This has helped to save police resources and provide better protection to both police officers and members of the public. Our police officers should not go into a situation where they are the only ones who don’t have a video record of what is happening, and everybody else does.
As physical crime declines, we are seeing new types of crime enabled by technology. For example, online scams, phishing attacks and ransomware attacks have become more common-place. In 2021, the world saw an estimated US$ 6 trillion in global damage due to cybercrime. If we compare this to the revenue of the major technology companies, this was more than 12 times Amazon’s revenue, and more than 16 times that of Apple in 2021. Cybercrime costs are estimated to grow even further to US$ 10.5 trillion in 2025.
In Singapore, cybercrime has in fact become the predominant mode of crime in recent years, surpassing physical crime. We saw a decline in physical crime last year, with theft and housebreaking-related crimes falling by 8% and 24% respectively to a 37-year low. On the other hand, online scams rose by 52.9% and made up 51.8% of all crimes – an all-time high.
What explains this worldwide trend? Of course, one reason was the pandemic of the past two years. With cities under lockdown, and people under quarantine, the opportunities for physical crime have decreased, while the risks to the criminal have increased significantly. However, this increase in cybercrime would have occurred even without the pandemic. Technology has fundamentally changed the nature and cost-benefit of crime. Digital penetration has become more widespread globally, and will only increase further with 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT). In 2025, the number of IoT devices is projected to reach 64 billion globally, or about eight IoT devices on average for every person on this planet. This provides a greatly expanded attack surface through which to launch malicious cyber activities.
In addition, cybercrime is simply much more lucrative, efficient and safer; they can be scaled more easily, with lower cost and risk as well as higher returns for the criminals. We can do some simple math to illustrate this. A criminal can easily email a million people at almost no cost. If he receives a 1% response rate, it means that 10,000 people responded to his email. If he is able to hook 10% of these 10,000 people – then he has 1,000 people. If he cheats each of them of $100, he could have easily made a nifty $100,000 – by just sitting in his room, perhaps taking him a couple of weeks or a month. The chances of him making off with the money is very high, as it is much more difficult to apprehend and prosecute for cybercrime, as he can cloak his identity and operate from a different jurisdiction, or appear to be doing so. Payments through, or conversion of illegal gains to, crypto-currency can mask the money flow. This is why even as technology has helped us to reduce physical crime, cybercrime and technology-enabled crime will only become more prevalent.
In fact, cybercriminals are refining their capabilities and tactics, and committing crimes with increasing sophistication. Ransomware attackers can now encrypt or lock up hundreds, if not thousands, of computers simultaneously, not just one or two at a time. They target large companies, organisations, and even governments, often with spill-over effects into the physical realm with real-world consequences. There is even a supply chain now, where you can buy the basic things that are needed for ransomware and then apply them to whatever victim you wish. In May 2021, Ireland and New Zealand’s healthcare services suffered separate ransomware attacks. Patient records became inaccessible, leading to surgeries being delayed and outpatient services being suspended, and this was during COVID. Shipping and energy companies have also been targeted with consequences in the physical world.
Countries are also grappling with new dangers to society that are enabled by technology. Examples include fake news and foreign influence operations. Such threats are borderless.
It is clear that we need new technology to combat crime and keep our citizens safe. However, technology is available to both sides of justice. Just as technology can help homeland security and law enforcement agencies, it can also be exploited by offenders, criminals and criminal organisations. Governments and homeland security agencies need to keep up, or stay ahead, with the rapidly evolving technologies. This will require reprioritisation of resources and effort.
So how can we and our agencies stay ahead? We can look at it in three ways, through (i) New Approaches; (ii) Capability Building; and (iii) International Cooperation. Let me elaborate on each of them.
First, we need new approaches to combat both physical and cyber crime. It is not just the random application of technology, but the strategic and focused application of technology that is needed. We need our policies, doctrines, laws and techniques to be alive to and aligned with the new dangers. The criminal organisations are working outside the law, so they are not bound by the law. But we, working within the law and enforcing the law, are bound by the law. Therefore, our concepts, our doctrines and our laws need to evolve with the changing circumstances so that we can deal with these new threats. We will need to have the legal tools, and not just the technological tools, to deal with these new threats. Then we can develop the concepts, apply the technologies and break the cycle. Internationally, given the borderless nature of cybercrime, we need new global rules, norms, governance principles, frameworks, and standards. These will ensure that we are all aligned at the policy level to deal with these new threats.
At the same time, even as technology has afforded us new capabilities to combat both physical and cyber crime, it is not an unalloyed good. For example, while surveillance cameras and facial recognition technology can keep us safer, they also raise concerns about privacy. We need to establish proper guidelines and standards on the use of technology to provide ample protection, and to preserve trust and confidence. Only with these in place can we make the best use of what technology can offer us, to improve our capability to protect our societies and people from the new dangers.
Second, we must invest in developing capabilities, otherwise the policies and standards that we talk about will remain unimplemented. This requires the sharing of technology and the know-how to use it innovatively and creatively, both with industry and external partners.
New partnerships between governments, industry and research institutes can help take us to the next level. For governments, partnerships with industry and research institutes can make research and innovation more responsive to social and global challenges, and more focused. For industry and research institutes, partnering with public research can help solve wicked problems, develop new markets and generate value through cooperation and co-production. For example, HTX is collaborating with Microsoft to develop MHA’s next generation sovereign cloud, HEIDI, which stands for the Home Team Enterprise Intelligent Digital Infrastructure. HEIDI will enable HTX to quickly adopt and create new digital capabilities so that capacity can be scaled up quickly to meet contingencies and future needs, and provide enhanced data security and stronger operational control compared to regular commercial cloud services.
We should also leverage technology to improve the way we train our homeland security forces. In Singapore, we have introduced smart training technology for live firing training. This provides real-time analysis of the shooter’s grip, breathing, posture and sighting for law enforcement officers. We have also incorporated human factor sensors into virtual reality training. We have augmented reality and virtual reality training. These help us to develop better-trained officers who can protect the public more effectively. The good thing is many of these training devices and systems are much more easily available today because of the game industry. Many of them can be adopted from the game industry. Gamified training will be much more interesting and exciting, especially for this new generation of officers.
Third, we need more international cooperation. Today’s TechX Summit is a good example of international collaboration to share experiences and best practices in dealing with our common challenges. More importantly, we need international cooperation to combat transnational and cyber crime, given their growing prevalence. These crimes exploit the gaps and interstices in our defences at the borders, where different legal regimes and jurisdictions meet.
Singapore has been trying to play our part – at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, at the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group on Cybersecurity, or OEWG, and the sixth Group of Governmental Experts, or GGE. Our permanent representative to the UN in New York has been elected as the Chair of the 5-year Open-Ended Working Group on Cybersecurity (OEWG) on the security and use of ICT. We are committed to work together with the UN and other countries to establish a rules-based multilateral order for a secure and peaceful cyberspace. There is a lot of work to be done, and we hope that we can work together to make progress.
We are playing our part at Interpol. Since 2014, Singapore has hosted Interpol’s Global Complex for Innovation, which has coordinated several large-scale, successful operations against international cybercrime syndicates. Last year, the Singapore Police Force worked closely with Interpol and other law enforcement agencies in Operation HAECHI-I, to crack down on online financial crime. This operation led to 585 arrests and US$ 83 million intercepted in an Asia-Pacific wide probe over a period of six months. The close cooperation of nine Asian countries and 40 specialised law enforcement officers across the Asia Pacific region enabled the success of this transnational joint operation.
We are also playing our part at the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF. Our Head of Delegation to the FATF will be taking on the Presidency on 1 July 2022. This furthers our support for the FATF’s work in establishing and implementing global standards to tackle money laundering and terrorist financing. We look forward to playing a role in helping to deal with some of these major emerging areas of crime.
Advances in science and technology have brought about a hyper-connected world and new security threats. Homeland security agencies all around the world need new approaches, capabilities and greater cooperation in order to better leverage technology, not just to tackle the threats of today, but also to be ready to anticipate and deal with the challenges of tomorrow. Without that, we will be one step behind those who aim to do us harm, and trying to catch up, rather than staying ahead of them.
I would like to thank everyone for joining us today. I look forward to HTX continuing to work with our industry, research and international partners, to leverage science and technology to deal with emerging challenges and create a safer world for our countries and our people.
I wish all of you a fulfilling and meaningful TechX Summit. Thank you.