Why Singapore’s government internet blockade might spread west
Wed 8 Jun 2016
All public workers in Singapore will have to start accomplishing their tasks without the aid of internet connectivity from May of 2017, a radical move which comes in the direct wake of a visit from the U.S. Secretary of Defense late last week.
The Straits Times reported the news of a circulating memo warning all affected workers of the change in policy, which is apparently intended to alleviate security concerns for the 100,000 computers which will be unplugged from the net. However, like most large organisations, intra-departmental connectivity seems likely to be maintained via corporate-style VPN infrastructure, and employees’ own devices will be exempt from the ban.
The Times cites ‘heightened security threats’ as the motivation for the move, and a spokesman for the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) there told it: “The Singapore Government regularly reviews our IT measures to make our network more secure.”
Government workers will be allowed to forward work mails to their own private email accounts as necessary.
The timing of the announcement is interesting, as the U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited Singapore last Friday, declaring “There’s no country and no geography in the world that compares to Singapore for the importance it has in the field of maritime security, which all of our countries everywhere in the world depend on.”
Carter expressed concern for the state of international security cooperation with neighbouring China, whose rise might ‘affect’ the U.S. presence in the region, and advocated closer working ties between Singapore and the U.S., commenting “We can only suggest that China participates.”
Trials are reported to have begun for the blockade from as early as April, with employees allowed net access on their own hardware via dedicated internet terminals, which have no access to official government email systems.
Aloysius Cheang, the APAC executive vice-president of Cloud Security Alliance observed that the retrograde move is comparable to the levels of net access government staff enjoyed back in the 1990s via specifically web-enabled terminals.
Singapore’s vanguard – and usually less Luddite – innovations finds the city increasingly perceived as a hotbed for technological innovation, most particularly this year, with the launch of the Smart Nation project, which, among other novelties, is subjecting its uncomplaining citizens to a quite extraordinary level of public surveillance as an ‘experiment’ in IoT systems.
Western governments have adopted cloud-first policies in the last five or six years of recovery from economic crisis, one of the central IT tenets [PDF] of the Obama administration, and of David Cameron’s coalition and recent governments. But in a post-WikiLeaks world, ring-fencing government email systems in the radical way that Singapore is trialling offers a Gordian Knot-style solution to years of data breach scandals.