Speech by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Coordinating Minister for National Security, at the Public Service Engineering Conference 2018

24 July 2018


“Creating Engineering Solutions for Singapore Together”

Minister Chan Chun Sing, Minister-in-charge of the Public Service,
Permanent Secretaries, 
Heads of Agencies and Departments,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning, 

1 I am happy to join our public sector engineers at the 2nd Public Service Engineering Conference. This is a good platform for all of us to share ideas, explore possibilities, and push the boundaries of our collective capabilities. And the gathering here today shows that our collective capabilities are in fact quite substantial. 

A System-of-Systems Approach

2 Technology is a key enabler for many exciting innovations. Our Public Service too has to continually innovate to create economic and social value for Singapore and Singaporeans.

3 Our Engineering Centres of Excellence or “CentExes”1 covering cybersecurity, tunnelling, underground caverns, facility management, geospatial systems, command and control systems and digital technologies have helped to raise operational excellence and innovation in the Public Service. These CentExes help to develop deep engineering expertise, and provide a platform for our officers and engineers to exchange ideas and develop solutions to meet societal challenges. For instance, the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (or “CSA”) is working with the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and GovTech to continually strengthen our defences against evolving cyber threats. Since 2016, we have detected an almost 10-fold increase in phishing attacks in Singapore. In fact, there has been a surge of security incidents worldwide, targeting government networks and systems.

4 The recent cyber-attack on SingHealth’s IT system highlights the importance of continually upgrading our capabilities to detect, isolate and deal with increasingly sophisticated cyber intrusions. What are some of the preliminary lessons learnt? SingHealth had anti-virus and anti-intrusion systems at the front end computers. These were able to keep out ordinary and run-of-the-mill attempts to intrude into the IT system. And there were many of such attempts, which were blocked. However, the front end computers continued to be connected to the internet. This provided intruders with an attack surface of many thousands of users in the medical and academic community. The attacker found a way into this path. This was a sophisticated and persistent intruder. He was subsequently able to circumvent some of the security barriers in the intermediate layer that manages and screens requests from the outer user layer to access the IT database servers. As a result, the attacker was then able to query a segment of the database and obtain and exfiltrate data. The data was exfiltrated to external servers outside Singapore. The intrusion triggered an alert when unusual access queries to the main database were detected. This attack exposed some weaknesses in our end user workstations.  

5 We could and should have implemented internet surfing separation on public healthcare systems just as we have done on our public sector systems. This would have disrupted the cyber kill-chain for the hacker and reduced the surface area exposed to attack. This has now been done. Specific weaknesses in the intermediate access server layer have also been identified, with solutions being implemented. 

6 What were some of the measures which helped to limit damage and assist in rapid recovery? The IT system operators were able to self-discover and report the intrusion. Of course, we are studying whether this could have been detected and reported more quickly, preventing such a large data loss. In other jurisdictions, there have been instances where system operators were unaware of the intrusions and the loss of large amounts of data until the data was published or offered for sale on the dark web. This case reinforces the importance of reporting any intrusion promptly to CSA; and system logs such as those in the IT system which allowed investigations and diagnoses to promptly contain the intrusion, identify the mode of intrusion, the attack vector, and scope out the extent of damage. We also had cybersecurity specialists who were able to carry out this task, and a network of trusted partner agencies in other countries to check back with. We are now cleaning up the system and restoring it with new security checks to deal with the weaknesses.

7 Dealing with a breach requires not just technical solutions, but also addressing public concerns and confidence - communicating and explaining to the public and our own users, as transparently as possible: what happened, what damage has been done, the damage limitation and mitigation measures, and what we are doing to better secure the system thereafter. That is why we are taking the matter very seriously, and have appointed a Committee of Inquiry to look thoroughly into all these aspects, and how we can do better.  As engineers responsible for systems which are increasingly digitalised and networked, we must take cyber security very seriously. 

8 We need to design our systems and operate them to keep out an attack; detect any intrusions which may have slipped through: respond and deal quickly and thoroughly with such intrusions. At the same time, we should not allow this incident to hold us back in building a Smart Nation and Digital Government. We need to persist in our efforts to harness the potential of the Digital Age, while building deeper expertise in our Cybersecurity CentEx in CSA as well as the capability centres in DSTA, IMDA, GovTech and elsewhere to do so confidently. 

9 With more digitisation and integration across agencies, we can look beyond individual silos and adopt a system-of-systems approach to problem-solving. This means that we can better address the interdependencies between systems, reap more benefits when we optimise across more agencies and find solutions at the national level. Take housing for example, our infrastructure engineers are not just building flats, but are working with social scientists, data analysts, environmental engineers and the community to design homes and community spaces that meet the needs of our residents. The Housing and Development Board (or “HDB”) has also developed new business models2 to aggregate demand for renewable energy to deploy solar panels on 5,500 HDB blocks by 2020. 

10 To foster more innovation and collaboration, I issued a challenge earlier this year to our Public Service engineers to develop ideas to enhance the lives of Singaporeans. I am heartened that there were 80 project submissions, with many good projects. Three of these teams will present their projects this morning on keeping schools cool for our students, providing commuters with alternate routes if there is a public transport disruption, and using data analytics for preventive maintenance to reduce down-time and costs.  

11 The Public Service can partner industry and our citizens to solve issues and contribute to the future of Singapore: driving innovations at the individual level, leveraging multi-agency and multi-disciplinary teams to work across government, and going beyond whole-of-government to look at whole-of-nation solutions to deliver engineering projects for Singapore and Singaporeans.

Driving Innovations at the Individual Level

12 First, as professionals in your respective fields, you are 
well-positioned to apply your training and insights directly in your work.  “How can we be more effective and more efficient? Are there new devices, methods or technologies that we can use? Can I write my own programmes, devise my own systems to speed things up and be more effective?” You are engineers and professionals; you don’t have to depend on others to solve your problems for you. You can tackle them yourselves. That’s what your training teaches you to do and prepares you to do. And as leaders in your respective fields, the Public Service and Singaporeans look to you for ways to answer questions such as these and find out ways to enhance their lives, and deliver Public Sector engineering projects with impact.

First, as professionals in your respective fields, you are 
well-positioned to apply your training and insights directly in your work.  “How can we be more effective and more efficient? Are there new devices, methods or technologies that we can use? Can I write my own programmes, devise my own systems to speed things up and be more effective?” You are engineers and professionals; you don’t have to depend on others to solve your problems for you. You can tackle them yourselves. That’s what your training teaches you to do and prepares you to do. And as leaders in your respective fields, the Public Service and Singaporeans look to you for ways to answer questions such as these and find out ways to enhance their lives, and deliver Public Sector engineering projects with impact.

13 I visited the JTC Corporation’s Space@Tuas last year and saw how our passionate engineers were working with contractors to use innovative construction technologies to raise productivity and save time. Our engineers redesigned their workplace, with the large pre-cast yard allowing precast columns, staircases and walls weighing several tonnes to be produced and installed on-site. Using prefabricated pre-finished volumetric construction techniques, almost complete dormitory modules were then transported on site for installation, saving up to a quarter of the normal construction time. 

14 Several of our engineers have also put their Polytechnic training to good use by integrating and customising existing solutions to develop J-Ops, an integrated smart estate and building operations system. Existing off-the-shelf models did not adequately meet all our needs. The J-Ops system can now monitor several buildings centrally and use data analytics to pre-empt issues. I gave them a further challenge - to couple the existing system with our cooling systems so that we can reduce the cooling load of our buildings during rainy days and reap more energy savings. They are making good progress and there is much scope to extend this system to other public sector buildings. 

Leveraging Multi-agency and Multi-disciplinary Teams 

15 Second, by working across agencies and in multi-disciplinary teams, our agencies can pool resources and more effectively address the interdependencies across systems. 

16 Often, our public sector leaders also need to work together to overcome the issue of split incentives – where an issue may not have clear agency boundaries, or the costs may be borne disproportionately by one or two agencies, while the benefits may accrue to other agencies or to society as a whole. In these cases, the issue is not an engineering one, but the issue is an organisational one. We need to overcome the organisational boundaries. 

17 For instance, the PUB looked at floating solar PV systems not just to meet its relatively small energy needs in its pumping stations. It has worked with the Energy Market Authority, the Economic Development Board and National Parks Board to expand the pilot at Tengeh Reservoir to other reservoirs such as Bedok and Lower Seletar Reservoirs. Such floating solar panels will allow all our reservoirs to be a source of not only clean water, but also clean energy. But in land-scarce Singapore, there are far more vertical surfaces compared to horizontal spaces. That is why we work in high-rise offices. Even gardens are multi-storied. We should challenge ourselves further to see what else we can do. Not all of them will turn out to be practicable, but we should be prepared to stretch our minds and explore them. Where else can we integrate and install solar panels to tap more renewable energy? Can we deploy solar panels vertically, and where? Fences, sound barriers and building facades?  

18 There are also many other opportunities to better match our energy needs, and harvest energy which is otherwise wasted. The “cold energy” at our Liquefied Natural Gas (or “LNG”) Terminal for instance, can be tapped to cool industrial processes rather than discharging the sea water from the heat-exchangers used for re-gassifying LNG into the sea. Vast amounts of excess heat generated by industrial processes and power plants can also be harnessed, perhaps to produce chilled water and lower the energy required for air-conditioning. Such efforts will make tangible efficiency improvements to our industries, combat global warming, and support initiatives to reduce the urban heat island effect in Singapore. 

19 Beyond working across engineering fields, there are also new benefits when our engineers work across disciplines. The needs of various agencies can be better met when we adopt common systems and agencies share the data collected with one another. 

20 The Integrated Environment System is an example of a nation-wide integrated system that connects environmental and weather sensors. This system provides integrated awareness of our environmental conditions, and can also share data with other public agencies and research institutes for their environmental and weather-related initiatives. The Integrated Environment System also allows visualisation of the geographical distribution for example, of dengue cases and mosquito breeding, cluster details and gravitrap data via a geo-spatial dashboard.  This includes cross-domain data from construction sites and buildings in dengue clusters to co-ordinate mosquito control operations. 

21 When the National Sensor Data Exchange is completed in the near future, our engineers can make use of the integrated real-time sensor network to provide more responsive, adaptive, efficient and convenient services for Singaporeans.  

From Whole-of-Government to Whole-of-Nation

22 Third, beyond working across agencies, the Public Service can work with industry and our research institutes to tap on their capabilities, resources and networks.  This will foster a greater sense of collective ownership, spark collaborative and innovative solutions, and allow more rapid development and deployment of new capabilities. 

23 The Land Transport Authority for instance, has worked with the National University of Singapore to develop a flat-wedge noise barrier to reduce the impact of construction noise on the surrounding environment. This barrier can help reduce perceived noise by up to 30% compared to existing ones and will be implemented at future MRT construction sites. This is a good case in itself, but can we go further and explore incorporating solar panels into our sound barriers to generate power as well? A significant component of the costs of sound barriers and solar panels are related to installation, and can we integrate both to reduce such installation costs. 

24 We now have a good base of R&D from our universities and research laboratories through our investments in advanced manufacturing and engineering, health and biomedical sciences, urban solutions and sustainability and the services and digital domains. Several enterprises such as SembCorp, Singtel, Keppel Corporation, ST Engineering, SMRT, Rolls-Royce and Delta Electronics have  set up corporate laboratories3 with our local universities to support the translation of R&D in areas such as cyber security, smart urban rail systems and advanced robotics and turn them into practical solutions. Strong partnerships among our public agencies, private enterprises and innovators and our research community can help develop new solutions, and deploy these solutions in large-scale national-level development projects, such as the new mega 65 million TEU4 container port at Tuas and the 50 million passenger Changi Airport Terminal 5. The social sciences are also important. While the cargo and passenger terminals perform similar functions in the transfer of goods and people respectively, they are designed very differently. It is important as we develop such projects to constantly remind ourselves of the need to enhance the passenger experience.  

25 Our engineers are making an impact, not just at the macro level, but are also working with our residents to improve the design of our estates, make them greener and provide faster and more convenient services. In this way, we bring benefits directly to our people and our economy – making life better and our economy stronger. 


26 Ladies and Gentlemen, our Public Sector engineers and leaders play an important role to help Singapore create new opportunities and make living in our city more convenient and enjoyable.

27 When we look beyond our boundaries, there are many opportunities to innovate and collaborate. You will find many more examples at this conference and I hope they will inspire you and your teams. Let us be bold in our thinking. We can make breakthroughs only if we are prepared to try. Be prepared to explore new solutions and ideas, and create new engineering solutions to make our lives better. Thank you.

[1] The Cyber Security Agency of Singapore covers cybersecurity; the Land Transport Authority covers tunnelling; JTC Corporation covers underground caverns and facility management; the Singapore Land Authority covers geospatial systems; the Defence Science and Technology Agency covers command and control systems, and Government Technology Agency covers digital technologies. 

[2] This third SolarNova tender aggregated multi-agency demand for solar installations across 848 HDB blocks and 27 government sites. Including this third SolarNova tender, HDB is now committing a total solar capacity of 190MWp out of the 220MWp target for 3,350 HDB blocks, and is on track to deploy solar panels on 5,500 HDB blocks by 2020. 

[3] The Corporate Laboratory@University Scheme was launched by the National Research Foundation in 2013 to support the establishment of key laboratories by industries in local universities. 

[4] Twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs)