Making cybercrime pay

29 Mar 2017
Making cybercrime pay

If you’re a Starhub user, chances are that you would have experienced difficulty using the Internet not too long ago. The telco’s broadbank network was hit by two waves of cyberattacks, stemming from the bug-infected machines of its own customers. It’s the first time a local telco has found itself the victim of cybercrime, and it’s unlikely to be the last.

Cybercrime has been costing the global economy close to US$400 billion (S$557 billion) a year. With more organisations taking their operations online and the continued growth of mobile device usage around the world, experts say the figure will increase fivefold to US$2.1 trillion by 2019.

From a domain of antisocial individuals trying to make a point, the world of cyber attackers has grown into an actual, profitable business. Besides “traditional” methods like breaching networks and stealing intellectual property, there is “ransomware” which locks a user out of his own files until payment is made, and even malware providers who provide “customer service” in the form of anti-virus tools, in exchange for monthly subscriptions.

In the realm of international relations, cyberattacks are starting to look like the new face of espionage. Indeed, analysts expect a cyber component to every intergovernmental conflict between governments in the near future.

It’s not just big powers that need to worry. Cyber criminals appear to be turning their attention to Southeast Asia, and organisations in the region face a 45 per cent higher risk of a targeted attack than the global average. With its telco and banking sectors heavily based on computers, Singapore is particularly at risk.

Around the world, governments are taking the fight to cyber criminals, from establishing national agencies to introducing new laws. At home, a Cybersecurity Act will be introduced – requiring owners and operators of critical information infrastructure to be responsible for securing their systems and networks. The Singapore government will also up its cybersecurity expenditure by more than three times.

On the economic front, there are plans to give a boost to the cyber security profession – primarily to address the acute shortage of skilled IT security specialists. With less than one per cent of Singapore’s 144,300 ICT workers specialising in the field, converting existing professionals while ensuring a pipeline of skilled ones will be critical in the coming years. The international professional body ISACA presently offers certification programmes, while cybersecurity provider Quann works with businesses like Singtel and ST Electronics to equip current ICT professionals with the requisite skills to switch sectors.

The demand for cybercrime busters will not just be restricted to Singapore. Analysts say the global cyber security market is expected to hit a worth of US$120 billion (S$167 billion) by next year, in a boon that will benefit computing and programming graduates. Already, those entering the cybersecurity field are earning starting salaries 10 to 15 per cent higher than their peers.

As cyber attacks continue to cross borders and nations, making cybercrime pay will be critical to ensuring Singapore’s economic lifeline. Effectively overcoming the challenge of cyber terrorism will enable the citystate to showcase itself as a successful hub for cybersecurity, while presenting limitless opportunities to a whole generation of IT specialists.