Cutting Off the Outside World

Singapore Public Offices Put Security over Open Access

Singapore has often been a leading indicator of technology absorption. Always among the first nations to implement the latest tech developments, we can wonder if the Singaporean government’s decision to move in reverse will trend among nations and enterprises.

The government of Singapore has announced plans to cut off the majority of its civil servants from the Internet by May 2017. The teaching community will be exempt, but over 100,000 computers used by government officials will be affected by the decision. The intention is to prevent cyber-attacks and the spread of malware.

Government officials said the need to delink public computers from the Internet is “absolutely necessary” to keep government data and public services secure. Government workers will still be able to surf the Web using their personal devices which are not linked to the government’s network or e-mail system. They can forward work e-mail to their personal accounts, but it’s a one-way street. There will also be separate dedicated Internet terminals providing some research access to the open Internet.

There’s some irony here given that Singapore is one of the world’s most wired nations and the government recently kicked off its Smart Nation initiative — intended to use Internet technologies to improve all facets of public life such as transportation and healthcare.

Already the country has been cautious about Internet threats and routinely blocks access to various Web sites considered objectionable. While countries are exploring ways to take advantage of the Internet, the move to block access is an interesting reversal.

The decision to cut off Internet access is an indication that the tech-savvy government exhausted all possible options and concluded the only way to ensure a secure IT environment is to cut the cord. An organisation’s intranet and Internet might not be able to safely coexist. As organisations are increasingly targeted by hackers, creating an island network could turn out to be the only way to eliminate exposure to threats, but at a possible cost to productivity and efficiency.