Mindef takes proactive approach to cybersecurity at international events

SINGAPORE – The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) takes a proactive approach to cybersecurity for high-profile international events in Singapore, including those involving high-level foreign dignitaries, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said on April 2.

Its proactive efforts include identifying an event’s digital footprint and cybersecurity risk areas, scanning the event websites and checking the commercial systems and applications used for the event. Any vulnerabilities uncovered during these checks will have to be resolved by the organisers prior to the event, Mr Heng told Parliament.

However, participants at international events and conferences, including those attended by military personnel and government leaders and officials, do not generally expect the host government to provide communications security, he said.

This is because it is questionable whether foreign participants are comfortable using the communications security, even if the host country is to offer it.

Mindef and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) also do not cover the cybersecurity of foreign militaries’ internal unilateral virtual meetings, he said.

Mr Heng was responding to a question from Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang), who asked if a recent incident – where the transcript of a meeting involving German military officials in Singapore was intercepted and leaked – was being investigated to identify and address vulnerabilities in Singapore’s telecommunications infrastructure.

Mr Yip also asked if there are measures in place to safeguard the security of communications lines originating from Singapore, especially during international meetings and military events which involve high-level foreign dignitaries.

Mr Heng told Parliament: “Foreign guests who need to transmit sensitive information will typically arrange their own secured means, such as encryption hardware or software, commercial secured or embassy lines and other security measures”.

This is also the practice of Mindef and SAF officials when attending meetings overseas.

The incident in question involved a meeting between Germany’s Air Force chief Ingo Gerhartz and three high-ranking officials on the possible delivery of Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine, which was intercepted and leaked to Russian news outlets on March 1.

One of the participants at the meeting, identified as Brigadier-General Frank Grafe, head of operations and exercises in the German Air Force, had dialled in via the platform WebEx from his hotel in Singapore, using either his mobile phone or the hotel’s Wi-Fi network. The general was in the country for the Singapore Airshow, which took place from Feb 20 to 25.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius attributed the leak to Russia who had likely intercepted the discussion by chance via widespread surveillance and an individual’s operational mistake, and said that Germany’s communications systems had not been compromised.

The leak was nevertheless an embarrassing event for the German government, and underlined the differences between the country and its key Western allies, which have supplied similar weapons to Ukraine as it continues to resist the full-scale Russian invasion launched in Feb 2022.

Western countries such as the US, UK, and France have supplied long-range precision guided missiles, such as the Storm Shadow, to Ukraine, but Germany has so far held out against doing the same.

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