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Singapore sets up ransomware task force

Singapore has set up an inter-agency task force to help businesses, research and educational institutions, which may be suppliers to critical information infrastructure operators, tackle the growing scourge of ransomware.

Announcing this on Wednesday at the 7th annual Singapore International Cyber Week, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said ransomware is a threat common to all, and organisations with poor cyber-security practices are particularly vulnerable.

“Ransomware criminals can be opportunistic and highly sophisticated,” said Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

Ransomware has brought many large organisations, some running critical infrastructure, to their knees. After infiltrating the corporate network, the malware allows hackers to exfiltrate confidential data and lock up the target systems. Ransomware hackers typically demand ransoms in exchange for a decryption key to unlock compromised systems or for not exposing any stolen data.

“They take advantage of poor cyber-security practices to gain access to their victims’ systems and data, bet on victimised organisations being more willing to pay the ransom and hide the attack than to report the crime, and take advantage of gaps between jurisdictions to evade law enforcement,” Teo said in his opening speech at the event.

The new Counter Ransomware Task Force (CRTF) aims to bridge this gap, especially since the number of ransomware attacks rose 54 per cent in Singapore from 2020 to 2021, said the Cyber Security Agency (CSA).

Set up earlier in 2022, the task force comprises senior officers from the CSA, GovTech, Infocomm Media Development Authority, Ministry of Communications and=-p0opInformation, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs, Monetary Authority of Singapore, Singapore Armed Forces and Singapore Police Force.

The task force expands on CSA’s purview of protecting critical information infrastructure (CII) for supporting essential services including transport, healthcare and energy.

Protecting all businesses, and research and educational institutions is important due to the interconnectedness of digital links between the systems of suppliers and partners. Some of these firms may have links to essential service operators.

“If a critical system is brought down by an attack, there could be severe effects on countries and the international system, organisations and businesses; financial losses; and threats to lives and livelihoods,” Channel News Asia quoted Teo as saying.

A data breach in January 2021 involved the personal information of about 129,000 Singtel customers as a result of a ransomware attack. Hackers exploited vulnerabilities in US tech firm Accellion’s file-sharing software, which is used by Singapore telecom company Singtel and many global firms.

Singapore’s CRTF will look into working more closely with overseas counterparts to spot new threats, stop the flow of fraudulent funds and nab criminals behind ransomware attacks. The task force will also develop and recommend policies, operational plans and measures to improve Singapore’s ability to counter ransomware, said CSA. PTI

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