Singapore warns political parties of cybersecurity threats and election interference

With the country's general elections expected to be held within a year, political parties have been issued advice about the threat of foreign interference and cybersecurity threats and urged to seek out precautionary measures.

With general elections expected to be held within a year, Singapore's political parties have been issued advice about the threat of foreign interference and cybersecurity threats. They have been urged to seek out precautionary measures to safeguard their ICT infrastructure, data, as well as online accounts. 

The city-state's Ministry of Home Affairs, Cyber Security Agency, and Elections Department on Monday said there had been many reports of foreign interference over the past few years in elections overseas, including the French presidential and German federal elections in 2017, the US mid-terms, and Italian general elections in 2018. These were attempts by foreign actors such as other countries, agencies, and individuals to assert influence over elections in a sovereign state, said the Singapore government agencies.

"Singapore is not immune and we need to guard against such nefarious activity as we head towards our own General Election, which must be held by April 2021," they said

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They added that its recommendations outlined details on some of the methods used by foreign actors to interfere in elections and the measures that political parties here could take to mitigate the risk of becoming vectors or targets. These included potential cyber threats and best practices they and election candidates could take to manage such risks. 

According to the advisory, malicious cyber activities had occurred in other countries such as site disruptions, defacement, or data theft, and these impacted electorates' confidence in their local election processes.

"Political parties play an important role in safeguarding the integrity of our General Election. They should enhance their understanding of the threat of foreign interference and their cybersecurity posture. They should find out more about the precautionary measures they can take to protect their information technology infrastructure, online and social media accounts, as well as the storage and management of their data.  

"They are also advised to stay vigilant by monitoring their platforms for suspicious activity and not re-share posts or tweets of suspicious provenance," the Singapore government agencies said.

Political parties and candidates were also urged to file a police report if they detect or suspect foreign interference in elections, or if their accounts or systems are compromised or misused. The Elections Department, too, should be notified. 

Singapore's upcoming general elections would be the first since the emergence of new technology such as deepfakes. The most recent elections were held back in 2016.

At the GovWare conference last October, speakers warned that cyber attacks would continue to target elections to influence political agendas and opinions, and would be increasingly sophisticated and organised. The Cognitive Security Institute's executive director Tim Hwang, for instance, said interference tactics used during the US 2016 elections had no clear strategy and did not use advanced algorithms. 

State actors used online ads to spread propaganda and "classic" cyber attacks to discredit politicians and organisations. They also tapped bots to spread their false messaging. Numerous state actors have since invested in new disinformation techniques too, Hwang said, who urged governments to recognise this new landscape of offensive capabilities. 

Facebook in September said advertisers running campaigns on social issues, elections, and politics on its platform in Singapore would have to confirm their identity and location, and reveal who was responsible for the ads. The social media giant said the move was part of efforts to stem the spread of "misinformation" and help block foreign interference in local elections. 

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