Complacency is Singapore's worst enemy

Merry 2012 peeps! May the new calendar year and upcoming dragon lunar year bring good tidings to one and all.

Merry 2012 peeps! May the new calendar year and upcoming dragon lunar year bring good tidings to one and all.

This week hasn't been all that great, however, for several organizations in Singapore which witnessed a string of site and service outages and security breaches.

It started with online payment portal, eNets, which went down for 11 hours on Tuesday leaving local users unable to access the site and pay for e-government and other retail services.

Operated by Network for Electronic Transfers Singapore (Nets), the portal "outage" was reportedly due to a very simple oversight--it forgot to renew its domain name. According to local daily The Straits Times, the eNets domain name had expired. The payment company has since renewed it for just one more year, until Jan. 3, 2013.

Outages that day spread to telecom operator SingTel, which customers found themselves unable to access 3G services on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The operator told us that the disruptions were due to two separate glitches that afflicted its network.

Network problems then went on to hit the National University of Singapore (NUS) which, on Thursday, confirmed hacker group Team Intra had breached its database and published information that included NUS staff usernames and passwords.

When contacted, the university stressed that the affected server was an isolated system which wasn't linked to the NUS network. It added that the leaked passwords were "for local accounts that allow access to the departmental server only".

I think it missed the point. Isolated or otherwise, its system was breached--even if the data the hackers got away with weren't terribly critical by the university's definition.

What was undeniably critical, though, were the unauthorized withdrawals scambags--I mean, scammers--in Malaysia got away with at the expense of DBS and POSB customers. The local bank (DBS acquired the latter in 1998) said it was investigating reports of unauthorized fund withdrawals affecting some 200 customers and amounting to S$200,000. The withdrawals were made in Malaysia through the customers' ATM and Debit cards, even though the users' and their cards remained in Singapore.

Four service incidents in as many days. News-wise, it was an exciting week for us at ZDNet Asia, but it certainly doesn't bode well for Singapore which already has been embattled with various other "disruptions", including a series of train breakdowns, flooding--not ponding--and an apparent lack of social media "grace" among its local politicians.

The core of all these problems, I believe, is complacency, plain and simple. Complacency because there is little competition in the market, which would have otherwise underscored the urgency to always improve one's services. Complacency from a mentality that if it ain't broke, yet, then don't fix it.

And when things do break, it's complacency that has resulted in these organizations choosing to point the fingers elsewhere and denying accountability, instead of taking responsibility and finding actual solutions to address the problems.

Such inaction also stems from a misguided assumption that since a practice has been allowed to go on for years, then it must be right.

It's time these organizations that have sat on their hands previously to start looking hard at its internal infrastructure and recognizing the need to always seek improvements--even if they have no competition, even if they feel no real urgency to do so.

And they should do so before their customers vote them out of the market.


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