SINGAPORE--Greater interconnectivity and access to technology will create a "new reality" in which the country will see more cyberattacks and social extremists, cautions Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
Also Singapore's coordinating minister for national security, Teo explained that Singapore was an open society in a highly globalized world with high amounts of trade and travel. This had given its citizens access to new technologies and be involved in geopolitical developments, but it also meant that the city-state was an "attractive target" for espionage and foreign subversion.
Teo was speaking on Tuesday at the 10th anniversary of the Internal Security Department (ISD) Heritage Centre, which was set up in the wake of the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The deputy prime minister explained that Singapore was an open society in a highly globalized world with high amounts of trade and travel. This had given its citizens access to new technologies and be involved in geopolitical developments, but it also meant that the city-state was an "attractive target" for espionage and foreign subversion.
He noted that the risk of espionage was not new, adding that the country in the past had been the target of espionage attacks or subversion attempts by foreign countries, including friendly nations. He revealed that during the height of the Cold War, a Singaporean embassy staff member based in Moscow was "compromised" and worked for the Soviet Union against his country's interest.
Teo added that threats of espionage continued today but noted that technology had become a "major gamechanger". "Our vulnerability has increased because of our own interconnectivity, the cache of classified information that can potentially be stolen through electronic media, and our heavy reliance on IT systems for essential services," he said.
"The threat of cyber espionage has added to our new reality. We have already seen a few attacks, have countered them [and] are likely to see more in the future."
Cyberspace paves way for racial, religious extremism
Another major threat to the country's internal security comes in the form of racial and religious extremism, and cyberspace is a new variant for this, according to the minister.
Teo explained that the Internet had given rise to "irresponsible, offensive and seditious comments" about other races and religions under an anonymous face. Regardless of whether these are deliberate attacks on another community or not, the end results are just as dangerous, he remarked.
The Internet enables these dangerous remarks to go viral quickly, and can potentially spiral out of control and rapidly damage inter-communal relations, he said, adding that if transposed into actions in the physical world, the consequences can be dire.
He also warned that Singapore was "no stranger" to communal violence and riots, citing those in the 1960s. However, the rifts had healed and the country now enjoyed peace and harmony because of strong social ties that had been built between different communities.
Teo said: "It is tempting to think that the Singaporean identity trumps an individual's racial and religious identity. But recent incidents involving insensitive and offensive remarks against other religions here vividly show that the good relations we enjoy cannot be taken for granted."