Government employees to be banned from internet use

Author: Liana Cafolla | Date: 15 Jun 2016

In a bid to boost cyber security, around 100,000 public sector workers in Singapore will no longer be able to do personal web browsing while at work

Government workers in Singapore will soon no longer be able to access the internet from their office computers.

The government said the move – which will affect about 100,000 workers in the super-connected city – is aimed at avoiding security breaches that could result from employees surfing the net. Access will be restricted progressively and will be fully restricted by May 2017.

"As the custodian of data concerning our citizens and because of national interests, we have to make sure that we can protect that, right?" said minister for communications and information, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim at a SkillsFuture talk. "We are constantly under attack and the hackers are becoming more sophisticated.”

Once the computers have been delinked from the internet, employees will only be able to access the net at work through their personal mobile devices.

Claudius Lam of Trend Micro in Hong Kong, a global IT security company, said the government’s move was logical.

“I understand why they are doing that,” he said. “Most threats are channelled through the internet, so you eliminate that risk.”

Employees who suspect their bosses are using the threat of cyber attacks as an excuse to stop them accessing Facebook or spending time online for personal reasons should remember that organisations can use software to block access to specific sites without having to go as far as blocking web access completely.

But there are good reasons for organisations to be worried about web usage. Work time spent checking Facebook or other social media sites results in lost productivity, while social and other websites also pose a security threat – often providing rich pickings for hackers who trawl the sites looking for passwords and other identity clues.

Computer hacking programs or viruses are often contained in attachments to emails, which can infect the whole system once opened. One of the most important ways a company can protect itself is by educating staff about the importance of only opening attachments from known or vetted senders, as well as using anti-virus programs. “Humans are always the weakest link,” adds Lam.

Incidents of cyber crime are rising rapidly, according to Trend Micro. The number of computer hacking cases in Hong Kong has risen by at least 30 per cent compared to 2015. Ransomware – where malware blocks a computer until a sum of money has been paid to the hacker – is the fastest rising type of hack in Hong Kong. “They have increased two or three-fold in the last year,” says Lam.

The most popular targets for hackers are companies that have huge databases – which can be sold – or those that have access to money, such as credit-card providers.

In 2015, children’s learning products maker VTech said about five million of its customer accounts had been hacked. In the same year, there was a surge of cyber attacks on banks in Hong Kong, with at least 17 reported (up from only three in 2014) – prompting the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to launch a 'Cybersecurity Fortification Initiative' in May.