Singapore to spend $719m beefing up government's cyber, data security systems

Country's 2020 budget will see SG$1 billion spent over three years to enhance the government's cyber and data security capabilities, essential as it adopts new technologies such as AI, as well as more funding support for deep-tech startups and SMBs.

The Singapore government will look to invest SG$1 billion to beef up its cyber and data security systems, which it says is critical as its agencies increasingly adopt technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, and Internet of Things (IoT). To be spent over the next three years, the funds will go toward readying the country to deal with cyber threats as digitisation efforts intensify. 

Protecting Singapore remains a high priority and efforts to do so must be "funded adequately", said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, during his speech Tuesday detailing the country's budget for fiscal 2020. Enhancements to the government's cyber and data security capabilities would help safeguard its critical information infrastructures as well as citizens' data. 

"We must also be prepared to deal with cyber threats as digitalisation becomes more pervasive," said Heng, who is also the country's Deputy Prime Minister. Noting that the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) and Cybersecurity Act were established in 2015 and 2018, respectively, to drive Singapore's cyber capabilities, he said CSA now was working to push out new measures for the next phase of cybersecurity. This will be necessary as the nation has increasingly adopted more advanced technologies such as AI and IoT, he said.

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Data security also will be necessary to facilitate Singapore's efforts to be a digital economy, and smart nation, and to preserve trust in a digitally-connected world, he added. 

Heng did not elaborate on exactly how the SG$1 billion would be invested, but said more details regarding various programmes would be provided by the respective ministries. 

More help for deep-tech startups, SMBs

During his budget speech, the minister also unveiled additional funding support for local startups and small and midsized businesses (SMBs). 

Deep-tech startups, specifically, have been singled out for stronger support as these businesses require larger investments and longer gestation periods, and face higher risks, Heng said. These factors typically mean investors are less likely to set aside funds for deep-tech startups, he said, pointing to pharmbio and medtech, advanced manufacturing, and agri-food technology as emerging technology sectors that have high potential to be competitive as well as to help fuel innovation in their markets. 

To drive investment in deep-tech startups, the government will divert an additional SG$300 million ($215.9 million) into the Startup SG Equity scheme. This, Heng said, is expected to attract at least SG$800 million ($575.7 million) in private funding over the next decade, offering deep-tech startups better access to capital, expertise, and industry networks. 

Under Startup SG Equity, the government may invest in funds or work with qualified third-party investors to make direct co-investments into eligible startups. The aim here, over time, would be to expand the pool of independent investors and venture builders that have the expertise and risk appetite to invest in deep-tech startups, he said. 

According to Heng, some 3,800 technology startups are based in Singapore, where there are also 150 venture capital funds that invest in startups in the state as well as the Asia-Pacific region. 

Through co-investment programmes such as Startup SG Equity, the government has already facilitated more than SG$560 million ($403 million) in private-sector funding over the past four years, the minister said. 

Apart from startups, SMBs also would get more support this year via an Enterprise Grow Package, he said. The package is aimed at helping organisations to identify business needs, adopt pre-approved digital technologies, and enter new markets, he added.

Initiatives targeted for launch under the package included a GoBusiness platform, which Heng described as a single touchpoint for businesses to transact digitally with the government. 

Singapore, though, would have to brace itself for the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on its economy, the minister warned, pointing to tourism and aviation as industries most directly affected by the epidemic. He added that the virus also had disrupted supply chains and triggered ripple effects on other sectors. 

The country downgraded its GDP forecast to between a 0.5% dip and 1.5% growth, from its earlier forecast of between 0.5% and 2.5% growth. 

To help mitigate its impact, Heng said the government was setting aside an additional SG$800 million to support healthcare services needed to help stem the spread of the virus as well as SG$5.6 billion to fund various initiatives to help businesses and employees ride out the economic slowdown. 

The minister these efforts aimed to stabilise the economy as well as help workers remain in their jobs and companies with their cash flow.

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