New Zealand has been recognised internationally throughout the pandemic for efforts in fighting COVID19, and in particular, it has been recognised for its’ impressive leadership from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The PM has notably put the health and safety of New Zealand citizens first and foremost. She has communicated transparently and effectively with the people and has built trust and gained their confidence through her actions.
Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style, focused on empathy, isn’t just resonating with her people; it has put the country on track for success against the coronavirus.
The country has a population of around 5 million people, yet New Zealand only recorded 1,219 infections and 22 deaths so far during the pandemic. These are dramatically lower than many other countries that are still grappling with thousands of deaths.
Being Proactive – Taking Precautionary Measures Early in a Pandemic
New Zealand government also took decisive action right away, planning for a possible outbreak began intensively on January 24, 2 days after the WHO reported evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Health established an incident management team and advised the public that while the risk to New Zealand was assessed as low, the Ministry was taking the outbreak very seriously.
New Zealand imposed a national lockdown much earlier in its outbreak than other countries did in theirs, and banned travellers from China in early February, before New Zealand had registered a single case of the virus. It closed its borders to all non-residents in mid-March, when it had only a handful of cases.
Swift Lockdown Action after 102 days without local infection
Just yesterday New Zealand put its largest city back into lockdown after recording four new Covid-19 cases, ending a 102-day streak without a local infection.
A three-day lockdown was swiftly imposed in Auckland after the cases were confirmed. The four new cases are all members of a single family. None had travelled recently.
The restrictions will came into effect on Wednesday, as authorities track and trace contacts of the family. Auckland residents will be asked to stay at home, large gatherings will be banned, non-essential businesses will be shut, and some social-distancing restrictions will be reintroduced in the rest of the country.
The importance of open communication between government and citizen in crisis management
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the pandemic back on March 21 was bold and garnered public support.
That day, Ardern delivered a televised statement to the nation announcing a four-level Covid-19 alert system.
Modelled on fire risk systems already in use in New Zealand, this familiar approach set clear guidelines for how the government would step up its response — and what would be asked of citizens as infection rates grew.
Prime Minister Ardern’s communication has been clear, honest, and compassionate. It has acknowledged the daily sacrifices to come and inspired people to forge ahead bringing them together.
She has spent a lot of time reassuring people during the lockdown with daily briefings and a message that resonates: “Go hard and go early.”
Pandemic demands transformative, collective action from Government and its people
Prime Minister Ardern has established a shared sense of purpose amongst the government and citizens.
Key leadership practices which are leading to New Zealand’s success is the government’s willingness to let themselves be led by expertise, its efforts to mobilise the population, and to enable coping, all of which leads to increased trust in leadership which is needed for transformative, collective action such as the pandemic demands.
The 13th Singapore-US Strategic Security Policy Dialogue (SSPD) was convened, and co-chaired by Permanent Secretary of Defence, Chan Heng Kee and United States Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Sasha Baker. This dialogue, embedded within the 2005 Strategic Framework Agreement and Defence Cooperation Agreement, serves as a cornerstone for shaping the future of Singapore-US defence relations.
Beyond the traditional domains of defence, Singapore and the US are venturing into uncharted territory – cybersecurity and critical emerging technologies. This signifies a strategic shift that acknowledges the evolving nature of security threats in the digital age.
Both nations have recognised the enduring strength of their bilateral defence relationship. Singapore’s unwavering support for the U.S. regional presence, outlined in the 1990 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) Regarding the U.S. use of Facilities (1990 MoU), remains a crucial pillar of their alliance. Simultaneously, the US continues to bolster the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) capabilities through overseas training and technology access. This includes the RSAF’s acquisition of the cutting-edge F-35 fighter aircraft.
The dialogue marked a significant milestone by introducing discussions on cybersecurity. In an interconnected world, where information is power, securing digital infrastructure cannot be overstated.
By engaging in collaborative efforts to enhance their cyber defences, Singapore and the US are not only safeguarding their interests but also contributing to global cybersecurity resilience. This proactive approach sets a precedent for other nations to follow suit and collectively combat cyber threats.
Also, the emphasis on critical and emerging technologies highlights the foresight of both nations. In today’s fast-paced technological landscape, advancements in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, and biotechnology can tip the scales of national security.
By pooling their expertise and resources, Singapore and the US are positioning themselves at the forefront of innovation, ensuring they are well-prepared for the security challenges of the future.
The dialogue also featured discussions on regional developments and the continued engagement of the US in the Asia-Pacific region. The ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM)-Plus framework serves as a platform for constructive dialogue and cooperation among ASEAN member states and their partners. Singapore and the US both recognise the significance of this framework in promoting regional stability and security.
Regular bilateral and multilateral training exercises form another vital facet of this partnership. Exercises like Tiger Balm, Pacific Griffin, Commando Sling, Red Flag, and Super Garuda Shield serve as platforms for joint training and skill development. These exercises not only enhance the operational readiness of both armed forces but also foster greater cooperation and understanding between Singapore and the US.
One noteworthy aspect of this collaboration is the US’s support for SAF’s overseas training, exemplified by Exercise Forging Sabre. This training, conducted at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, has played a pivotal role in honing the skills of RSAF personnel.
In 2023, two RSAF detachments, Peace Carvin II (F-16 fighter aircraft) and Peace Vanguard (Apache AH-64 helicopters), marked their 30th and 20th anniversaries of training in the US, respectively. These milestones are a testament to the enduring nature of the Singapore-US defence relationship.
The 13th Singapore-US Strategic Security Policy Dialogue not only reaffirmed the steadfast commitment of both nations to their long-standing defence partnership but also showcased their readiness to adapt to the evolving security landscape.
As reports cited the inclusion of cybersecurity and critical emerging technologies in the discussions reflects the forward-thinking approach to safeguarding the national interests of both nations. As they continue to train together, exchange knowledge, and invest in cutting-edge technologies, Singapore and the US are poised to navigate the complex challenges of the future, hand in hand.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi highlighted the digital dimension in the country’s counter-terrorism strategies during her recent address at the Ministerial Plenary Meeting of the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum (GCTF) in New York.
Minister Retno emphasised the significance of comprehensive rehabilitation and reintegration (R&R) efforts within Indonesia. Notably, these efforts extend beyond former terrorist inmates, encompassing strengthening communities and the environments that receive them. The focus on digital aspects of R&R is evident in Indonesia’s approach.
Indonesia has adopted a multifaceted strategy to counter extremism, as outlined in its National Action Plan for Prevention and Countering Extremism. This strategy underscores the “whole-of-government” and “whole-of-society” approaches, highlighting the collaborative roles of the government and civil society. Combining hard and soft approaches, Indonesia actively engages communities and fosters international cooperation in its counter-terrorism efforts.
The digital dimension is also prominent in Indonesia’s second pillar of counter-terrorism strategy, which aims to harness technological advancements while ensuring they are not misused for extremist purposes. The rapid evolution of technology has created opportunities for disseminating extremist ideas, demanding constant vigilance. In response, Indonesia introduced the “Pusat Pengetahuan Indonesia (I-KHub),” or the Indonesian Knowledge Hub.
I-KHub is not merely a digital repository of information but a dynamic platform that actively contributes to Indonesia’s counter-terrorism endeavours. Integrating data systems and facilitating evidence-based decision-making empowers policymakers, law enforcement agencies, and community leaders with actionable insights.
One of the critical features of I-KHub is its ability to analyse trends and patterns in extremist activities. Leveraging advanced data analytics, it can identify emerging threats and hotspots, allowing for proactive measures to be taken. This early warning system is instrumental in preventing extremist ideologies from taking hold in vulnerable communities.
Moreover, I-KHub is a collaborative space where experts, researchers, and stakeholders from various sectors can share knowledge and best practices. This collective intelligence enriches the understanding of extremist narratives and recruitment tactics and facilitates the development of effective counter-narratives.
The platform’s outreach extends to educational institutions, where it supports curriculum development aimed at countering extremism. I-KHub is vital in promoting digital literacy and critical thinking among students by providing educators with relevant resources and insights. This proactive approach helps inoculate young minds against the allure of extremist ideologies.
In the digital realm, I-KHub monitors online spaces where extremist content proliferates. It can promptly identify and report such content through advanced algorithms and data analysis. This collaborative effort with tech companies and social media platforms contributes to removing extremist material from the internet, disrupting the digital recruitment efforts of extremist groups.
The third aspect of Indonesia’s counter-terrorism strategy focuses on creating a secure environment to counter extremism. This includes digital-driven educational programmes targeting women and children. Minister Retno highlighted that extremist ideologies thrive in environments rife with hatred, emphasising the role of digital tools in promoting understanding, tolerance, and peace.
In her closing, Minister Retno expressed that GCTF member countries would firmly commit to ensuring the inclusive implementation of the R&R strategy. The Global Counter-Terrorism Forum is a vital international platform for global cooperation and information exchange on counter-terrorism and violence-based extremism.
Indonesia underscores the country’s commitment to harnessing technology for a safer and more peaceful society. Indonesia’s multifaceted counter-terrorism approach, particularly its emphasis on digital knowledge sharing through I-KHub, reflects its dedication to addressing the global challenge of extremism with modern tools and strategies.
The University of Michigan has developed machine-learning algorithms technology. This new technology can identify problematic areas in antibodies, making them less susceptible to binding non-target molecules. This innovative development, led by Peter Tessier, the Albert Mattocks Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at U-M and the study’s corresponding author in Nature Biomedical Engineering, presents a ground-breaking solution to enhance the effectiveness of antibodies in fighting diseases.
“Antibodies play a crucial role in our immune system’s defence mechanism by binding to specific molecules known as antigens on disease-causing agents, such as the spike protein on the COVID-19 virus,” Tessier expressed, “Once bound, antibodies either directly neutralise harmful viruses or cells or signal the body’s immune cells to take action.”
However, there’s a challenge associated with antibodies designed to bind strongly and rapidly to their specific antigens. These antibodies may also bind to non-antigen molecules, leading to their premature removal from the body. Moreover, they can interact with other antibodies of the same type, forming dense solutions that do not easily flow through the needles used for delivering antibody drugs.
Tessier highlighted the importance of antibodies that can simultaneously perform three critical tasks: tightly binding to their intended target, repelling each other, and disregarding other substances within the body. Antibodies failing to meet all three criteria are unlikely to be successful drugs. Unfortunately, a significant number of clinical-stage antibodies fall short in this regard.
In their recent study, Tessier’s team assessed the activity of 80 clinical-stage antibodies in the laboratory. It made a startling discovery – 75% of these antibodies interacted with the wrong molecules, with each other, or both. To address this issue, the team turned to machine learning.
By making subtle changes to the amino acids that make up an antibody, they can alter the antibody’s three-dimensional structure. This modification helps prevent antibodies from behaving improperly, as an antibody’s structure determines the substances it can bind to. However, making changes without careful consideration can introduce more problems than they solve, and the typical antibody contains hundreds of amino acid positions that could be altered.
Fortunately, machine learning offers a streamlined solution. Tessier’s team created models that are trained using experimental data collected from clinical-stage antibodies. These models can precisely identify how to modify antibodies to ensure they meet all three criteria mentioned earlier, with an impressive accuracy rate of 78% to 88%. This approach significantly reduces the number of antibody modifications that chemical and biomedical engineers need to produce and test in the lab.
Tiexin Wang, a doctoral student in chemical engineering and a co-author of the study, emphasised the pivotal role of machine learning in accelerating drug development. This advanced technology is already attracting attention from biotech companies, which recognise its potential for optimising the development of next-generation therapeutic antibodies.
Tessier concluded by mentioning that some companies have developed antibodies with desirable biological activity but are aware of potential challenges when using these antibodies as drugs. In such cases, Tessier’s team steps in to identify specific areas within the antibodies that require modification, offering valuable assistance to these companies.
The Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) participated in the “Think Business, Think Hong Kong” symposium organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) on September 19th at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris.
HKSTP, Hong Kong’s largest innovation and technology (I&T) ecosystem and incubator, will led a group of leaders in the health and biotech sectors to discuss how Hong Kong can support biotech startups and major pharmaceutical companies in France to expand successfully and tap into the vast potential of Asia’s healthcare markets. In turn, French expertise and talent will contribute to Hong Kong’s aspiration to become a global hub for biotech and innovation technology.
Key figures like France’s Minister for Foreign Trade, Economic Attractiveness, and French Nationals Abroad, and the Financial Secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government will join prominent business leaders at the event, including the Chairman of HKTDC, and the CEO of HKSTP to explore collaborative opportunities between the French and Hong Kong I&T ecosystems.
The Asia Pacific region is poised to be the world’s fastest-growing biotech hub, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 16.9% from 2022 to 2030, according to Vision Research. This region is witnessing improvements in healthcare infrastructure, supportive government policies, and the increasing challenge of an aging population. Hong Kong’s strategic location makes it an ideal gateway to both the substantial North Asian markets and the rapidly expanding Southeast Asian economies.
To address these opportunities and challenges, HKSTP is hosting a biotech-focused session and pavilion at the “Think Business, Think Hong Kong” symposium. Four prominent executives from thriving Hong Kong-based biotech companies will showcase the city’s capacity to drive innovation on a global scale.
In parallel, French startups, fuelled by record funding in 2022, are seeking expansion opportunities, aligning with the French government’s Healthcare Innovation 2030 plan. This plan, with a substantial budget, aims to position France as a leader in biotech innovation in Europe.
The CEO of HKSTP emphasised that Asia, and Hong Kong in particular, provides diverse opportunities for French biotech companies to scale up and venture into global markets. French expertise will also play a crucial role in Hong Kong’s ambition to become an international innovation hub.
Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s leading biotech funding hub is reinforced by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s biotech-friendly Chapter 18A listing policy. Additionally, it ranks 12th in the World Index of Healthcare Innovation, surpassing countries like the United Kingdom and Canada. The government’s support includes the InnoHK initiative, featuring 14 research clusters dedicated to biomedical and health tech, situated at Hong Kong Science Park.
HKSTP has established a thriving, fully integrated biotech ecosystem that guides ventures through every stage of the startup-to-scale-up journey. It hosts around 250 biotech ventures, benefiting from incubation programs such as the dedicated Incu-Bio program, subsidies, and supportive government policies. Hong Kong boasts world-class talent, with five universities ranked in the top 100 globally, and China’s projected annual output of 77,000 STEM PhDs per year by 2025, surpassing the US.
Moreover, HKSTP has fostered significant collaborations with global pharmaceutical leaders and healthcare institutions, facilitating expansion into the Greater Bay Area (GBA), China, the Asia Pacific, and global markets.
Hong Kong already boasts a substantial French presence, with 800 French businesses, including subsidiaries and regional headquarters, according to the French Embassy. Interested parties can participate in the HKTSP biotech pavilion and hear from leaders in biotech innovation, as well as other experts in the innovation ecosystem, at the “Think Business, Think Hong Kong” symposium.
In Singapore’s healthcare landscape, Prof Kenneth Mak, Director-General of Health at the Ministry of Health, emphasised the significance of the theme “Reimagining Possibilities – The Pharmacist’s DNA” at this year’s congress which underscores the adaptability and crucial role of pharmacists in healthcare.
Prof Kenneth stated that like DNA’s unchanging core, pharmacists must uphold their fundamental values while adapting to challenges like an ageing population and increasing healthcare expenses. Telemedicine emerges as a pivotal avenue through which pharmacists are driving the transformation of patient-centred care.
“As we journey towards Healthier SG and beyond, pharmacists are at the forefront of digital innovation in healthcare,” said Prof Kenneth. They are embracing telemedicine, collaborating with other healthcare professionals, and continually evolving to meet the challenges of a changing healthcare landscape. The pharmacist’s DNA remains rooted in patient-centred care, but it also incorporates innovation and adaptability, making pharmacists an essential part of the future of healthcare.
Telemedicine, the remote delivery of healthcare services using digital technology, has gained momentum globally, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has revolutionised the way patients access medical care, allowing them to consult with healthcare providers from the comfort of their homes. The integration of pharmacists into telemedicine initiatives holds immense promise in improving healthcare accessibility, efficiency, and patient outcomes.
One significant step towards this future is the Healthier SG campaign, launched by the Ministry of Health in July 2023. This campaign underscores the importance of preventive care in the communities, emphasising healthier lifestyles and overall well-being.
Pharmacists, deeply embedded in their communities, play a crucial role in educating the public on medication management, health screenings, and vaccinations. They also collaborate with family doctors, supporting patients in their journey towards healthier lives, including smoking cessation and adopting healthier behaviours.
Innovations like Pharmaceutical Care Services (PCS) exemplify how pharmacists are empowering patients. PCS, initiated in senior care centres, equips patients and caregivers with the knowledge and tools to manage medications independently. Feedback indicates increased patient confidence in medication management, aligning with the goals of Healthier SG. Expanding PCS to primary care settings like general practitioner clinics and retail pharmacies will make this service even more accessible.
The collaboration between community pharmacies and telemedicine providers represents another leap in healthcare innovation. Pharmacies partnering with telemedicine providers enable them to triage patients, conduct history-taking, and refer them to teleconsultations with doctors. This seamless integration of services ensures patients receive comprehensive care at their convenience, bridging the gap between pharmacy and telemedicine.
The role of digital technology in telemedicine is pivotal, as it enables the delivery of healthcare services remotely, bridging geographical barriers and improving access to care.
Telemedicine platforms serve as comprehensive digital ecosystems that support various aspects of virtual care. They offer features like appointment scheduling, secure video conferencing, electronic health records (EHR) integration, and billing. These platforms streamline the telemedicine workflow for both patients and healthcare providers.
Additionally, digital technology plays a crucial role in the development and use of specialised telemedicine devices, such as telemedicine carts equipped with cameras and medical instruments. These devices are used for remote examinations and diagnostics.
AI-driven algorithms and machine learning models assist healthcare providers in diagnosing conditions, predicting outcomes, and personalising treatment plans. AI can analyse large datasets to identify patterns and trends that might not be readily apparent to humans.
In partnership with the Ministry of Manpower, the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore (PSS) is contributing to healthcare workforce development. Customised training programmes are being developed to upskill healthcare associates, enabling them to play essential roles in areas like medication management and patient inquiries, particularly in caring for migrant workers.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has secured substantial funding support totalling HK$25.1 million for a selection of 27 innovative projects from the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) during the 2021 funding allocation. This represents a noteworthy increase in both the number of projects and the total funding awarded, underlining the university’s commitment to advancing research in the fields of health and medicine through technology and innovation.
The projects receiving these awards are driven by researchers from various faculties within the university, including the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Faculty of Humanities, Faculty of Science, and the School of Design. These projects collectively aim to develop pioneering and impactful solutions geared towards enhancing the quality of medical and mental healthcare services.
The research initiatives encompass an extensive spectrum of topics and age groups, addressing critical health concerns and providing innovative solutions. Some of the projects focus on cognitive and physical training programmes tailored for older adults, early detection of postpartum depression, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, Parkinson’s disease, autism spectrum disorder, and system-biology analytics for schizophrenia. Other projects aim to advance medical progress in critical areas such as liver cancer radiotherapy and palliative care.
In the realm of eye health, the projects delve into areas such as myopia control, the development of an anti-glaucoma agent, and the creation of drugs for antibiotic and infection treatment. Additionally, several projects concentrate on providing support for caregivers by enhancing their mental health services while also catering to the specific needs of patients.
One notable aspect of this research is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, including deep learning and machine learning, to enhance clinical diagnosis and analysis. For instance, Prof Weixong ZHANG, Chair Professor of Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics at the Department of Health Technology and Informatics, is leading the project “Subtyping and Diagnosis of Schizophrenia by Systems-biology Analytics.” This initiative employs AI technologies to integrate genomic and neuroimaging data, facilitating a deeper understanding of schizophrenia’s etiology and subtypes, with the ultimate goal of enabling personalised medicine for affected individuals.
In the context of liver cancer radiotherapy, Dr Tian LI, Research Assistant Professor of the Department of Health Technology and Informatics, is spearheading the project “Investigation of a Deep Learning-empowered 4D multi-parametric MRI (4D-mpMRI) Technique for Liver Cancer Radiotherapy in a Prospective Clinical Trial.” This endeavour aims to enhance the image quality and clinical effectiveness of 4D-mpMRI radiotherapy techniques by leveraging deep learning, ensuring more accurate measurement of tumour motion and volume for improved treatment planning.
Technology is also playing a pivotal role in the field of rehabilitation management. Autism spectrum disorder, a condition without a cure, presents unique challenges. Dr Yvonne Ming Yee HAN, Associate Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, leads the project “Cumulative and Booster Effects of Multisession Prefrontal Transcranial Direct-current Stimulation on Cognitive and Social Impairments in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” This research explores the potential long-term efficacy of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in mitigating core symptoms in individuals with autism, offering hope for improved cognitive and social functioning.
Creative technologies are also being harnessed to enhance the effectiveness of physical and mental health treatments in both clinical and community settings. Dr Shanshan WANG, Research Assistant Professor of the School of Nursing, leads the project “Effects of e-bibliotherapy on the Psychological Wellbeing of Informal Caregivers of People with Dementia: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” This initiative has developed an e-bibliotherapy app/manual aimed at improving the psychological well-being and health-related quality of life for caregivers of dementia patients.
In an innovative endeavour, Dr Hailiang WANG, Assistant Professor of the School of Design, is leading the project “A VR-based Real-time Interactive Tutoring System for Qigong Training among Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment and Their Familial Caregivers: A Feasibility Study.” This project explores the integration of traditional exercise Qigong with virtual reality (VR)-based training to design a platform that enables older adults to engage in Qigong exercises, potentially delaying the progression of dementia.
PolyU’s securing of funding aligns with Hong Kong’s broader efforts to drive positive societal change through technological innovation, echoing the collaborative spirit seen in initiatives like the “Healthcare Innovation Challenge” organised by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP), as reported earlier by OpenGov Asia, in partnership with a US-based pharmaceutical company. These endeavours collectively demonstrate the region’s dedication to leveraging technology to shape the future of healthcare and advance societal well-being.
The world’s first integrated cyber defence, cyber security, and emerging technology event, CYDES 2023, took place at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre (MITEC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, highlighting the importance of addressing cyber-threat challenges and fostering collaboration within the ASEAN region.
Cybersecurity leaders across Asia concur that collaboration and breaking down silos among organisations and sectors are essential for success in tackling the complex and ever-evolving challenges of cybersecurity, ensuring the preservation of digital infrastructure.
David Koh, Commissioner of Cybersecurity and Chief Executive of the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) of Singapore, emphasised the importance of collaboration among different agencies to effectively address cybersecurity challenges, “Cyber is a team sport. We can’t do this by ourselves.”
For example, the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore works closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry of Communications and Information to share critical information and coordinate responses to cyber threats.
However, to effectively combat cyber threats, government agencies require the cooperation and active involvement of businesses, academia, and civil society as valuable partners in the collective effort to strengthen cybersecurity measures.
According to David, in the rapidly evolving cyberspace landscape, private companies possess valuable intelligence, operational capabilities, and technical know-how that complement government efforts, making partnering with the private sector essential for robust cybersecurity measures.
This collaborative approach fosters a comprehensive and unified response, leveraging diverse expertise and resources to safeguard digital infrastructures and protect against evolving cyber threats.
“Governments must therefore collaborate with the private sector to enhance their cybersecurity posture,” David believes. “Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) play a crucial role in fostering information sharing, promoting collaborative research and development, and driving innovation in cybersecurity, enabling governments and private companies to jointly address the ever-growing challenges of the digital era.”
The successful partnership between the Singaporean government and a private technology corporation during the response to the SolarWinds attack exemplifies how PPPs can leverage private sector expertise to obtain critical technical information and develop actionable indicators of compromise, enhancing the collective cybersecurity defence capabilities.
This is merely one instance in which PPPs can assist the public sector in enhancing its cybersecurity posture. Governments and companies can make the digital world safer for everyone by working together and safeguarding individuals, businesses and critical infrastructures in the digital frontier.
David highlighted the importance of adopting a new perspective, urging governments to share information with private businesses and embrace innovative ideas. This shift is challenging yet essential for effective cybersecurity in the digital world. By adjusting their approach and collaborating with private companies, governments can contribute to a safer digital environment for all.
Indeed, Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) play a crucial role in cybersecurity, as they bridge the gap between the public and private sectors. By sharing information, expertise, and resources, these partnerships enhance the collective ability to detect, prevent, and respond to cyber threats effectively.
Moreover, PPPs facilitate the development of new technologies and innovative solutions, fostering a collaborative environment for tackling evolving cybersecurity challenges. Ultimately, such collaborations improve the coordination of cybersecurity efforts, leading to a more robust and secure global digital landscape and the world (digital and physical) a safer place for everyone.
Shamsul Bahri Hj Kamis, Interim Commissioner of Cyber Security Brunei (CSB), highlighted the need to examine current systems to harmonise cybersecurity in ASEAN. In 2017, ASEAN member states developed the ASEAN Cybersecurity Cooperation Strategy, outlining directions, objectives, and action plans to strengthen cybersecurity in the region.
The policy aims to tackle communication challenges arising from the multitude of sectoral groups within ASEAN working on cybersecurity. This is particularly challenging due to ASEAN’s consensus-based decision-making process, which can sometimes hinder progress.
However, various measures to address cybersecurity in ASEAN are already underway. The ASEAN Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), which coordinates the response to cybersecurity incidents, and the ASEAN Cybersecurity Capacity Programme, which provides training and assistance to ASEAN member states in developing their cybersecurity capabilities, are two examples.
“To move forward, ASEAN must devise a strategy for more effectively sharing information and collaborating on addressing the most severe cyber threats,” Shamsul elaborates. “This will necessitate tight collaboration among governments, corporations and civil society.”
Shamsul believes that collaboration within ASEAN can create a secure and resilient digital environment for people and businesses. He stressed the need for shared awareness of the region’s risks and challenges, as well as a clear division of responsibilities among the various sectoral bodies.
Strengthening information sharing within ASEAN and with other nations, along with a focus on capacity building in member states, is essential as cybersecurity should be embraced as a shared responsibility by all stakeholders.
“By resolving these issues, ASEAN can make substantial strides towards regional cybersecurity harmonisation,” Shamsul is convinced.
Shariffah Rashidah Syed Othman, Acting Chief Executive of the National Cyber Security Agency of Malaysia (NACSA), agrees that cybersecurity is increasingly becoming a critical concern for governments and businesses globally, particularly in the ASEAN region, where the rapidly growing digital economy necessitates strong cybersecurity measures.
According to Shariffah, the cross-border nature of cyber threats is one of ASEAN’s greatest cybersecurity challenges. Cybercriminals can simply target victims in one country while operating from another. As a result, governments find it difficult to confront cyber threats on their own.
“By combining the resources and experience of governments and businesses, public-private partnerships can assist in addressing this challenge. Governments can provide regulatory and financial support, while businesses can share knowledge about cyber dangers and best practices,” Shariffah says.
Partnerships between the public and private sectors play a vital role in addressing the barrier of a lack of understanding of cyber risks in the ASEAN region. By collaborating, they can raise awareness of internet threats, educate businesses, and individuals on cybersecurity best practices, and collectively work towards creating a safer digital environment for all.
“ASEAN leaders must recognise that cybersecurity is a shared responsibility. Governments, businesses, and individuals must all work together to secure the region from cyber dangers,” Shariffah stressed.
The comprehensive strategy for enhancing cybersecurity in the region must encompass strengthened government cooperation, information sharing on cyber dangers, increased cyber risk awareness, improved critical infrastructure security, and robust protection of personal data. By addressing these crucial aspects collectively, ASEAN can build a more resilient and secure digital ecosystem for its residents and businesses.
Shariffah outlines several key advantages of public-private partnerships in cybersecurity, such as bridging the divide between technical and non-technical skills, fostering trust and collaboration between governments and enterprises, and facilitating the effective implementation of cybersecurity measures.
By leveraging these partnerships, ASEAN can enhance its cybersecurity capabilities, as governments and companies work together to create a safer and more secure digital environment for everyone in the region.
Shariffah advocates practising “cyber hygiene,” urging individuals to be vigilant about online risks and take proactive measures to protect themselves. This includes using strong passwords, regularly updating software, and exercising caution when sharing personal information on the internet. By promoting cyber hygiene, individuals can play an active role in safeguarding their digital security and contributing to a safer online environment for all.
She also stressed the importance of empathy in cybersecurity, highlighting the need to understand diverse perspectives and communicate in a language that is accessible to all. Recognising the different viewpoints held by individuals is crucial in addressing cybersecurity challenges effectively and fostering a collaborative and inclusive approach to cybersecurity initiatives.
“Cybersecurity is more than just a technical problem – it is a societal issue. Thus everyone needs to be included in the discussion. We can all live in a safer digital environment if we all work together,” Shariffah is convinced.
Indeed, understanding that cybersecurity is not solely a tech challenge but also a community one underscores the importance of involving all stakeholders. By acknowledging the broader societal implications of cybersecurity, public-private partnerships can effectively address challenges and implement comprehensive solutions that safeguard everyone in the digital landscape.
Cybersecurity for SMEs: A Workable Model
David Koh, Commissioner of Cybersecurity and Chief Executive of the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), knows the universal importance of cybersecurity for all organisations but understands there are challenges faced by small and medium-sized firms (SMEs). Due to limited resources and experience, SMEs may find it more difficult to implement effective cybersecurity measures.
The Cyber Security Agency (CSA) in Singapore has created a variety of programmes to assist SMEs in strengthening their cybersecurity posture. The Cyber Essentials mark, which offers a set of fundamental cybersecurity measures that all firms should follow, is one of these initiatives.
The Cyber Essentials mark four important areas including:
- Asset management: Includes cybersecurity awareness for its employees, and classifying and identifying each asset in your company, including its hardware, software, and data.
- Secure and Protect: This entails limiting who has access to and what they can do with the resources of your company.
- Update, backup, and Respond.
“SMEs can begin by adopting Cyber Essentials as a foundational step to strengthen their cybersecurity posture,” David advises. “However, these are just initial restrictions, and SMEs may need to implement additional measures based on their specific requirements and threats.”
If SMEs want to strengthen their cybersecurity posture, they should start with the Cyber Essentials,” David says. It’s crucial to keep in mind that these are merely fundamental, basic restrictions. Depending on their particular requirements and dangers, SMEs may need to implement additional steps, adding that CSA would be happy to share its framework with regional partners like Malaysia and Brunei.
Alongside the Cyber Essentials mark, the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) offers a range of tools to support SMEs in enhancing their cybersecurity. These resources encompass a cybersecurity training programme tailored for SMEs, a dedicated cybersecurity helpline, and a list of certified cybersecurity consultants who can guide SMEs in implementing the Cyber Essentials effectively.
By leveraging the CSA tools, SMEs can significantly bolster their cybersecurity defences and safeguard their businesses against online threats, ensuring the security and protection of their valuable assets and sensitive information.
In addition to CSA’s initiatives, SMEs can bolster their cybersecurity posture through various measures, including ensuring regular software updates, which often include vital security patches to safeguard against known vulnerabilities. Individuals can enhance their cybersecurity by using strong passwords and password management software, while organisations can educate their staff about cybersecurity threats.
Moreover, having a well-defined response plan for cyber incidents is essential for effective cybersecurity management.
“By adopting these measures, SMEs can protect themselves from cyber threats and maintain the security of their businesses,” David concluded.
Shamsul spoke about the Cyber Consortium, a regional programme established in 2021, aimed at bolstering the cybersecurity posture of Southeast Asian SMEs. Comprising academic institutions, IT partners, cybersecurity experts, companies, students, and government regulatory agencies, this collaboration focuses on enhancing cybersecurity resilience in the region.
The Cyber Consortium offers a comprehensive array of services to SMEs, including cybersecurity assessments, training and education, technical support for implementing security measures, and networking opportunities with other SMEs and cybersecurity experts, all aimed at strengthening their cybersecurity defences.
“It is a useful tool for SMEs trying to strengthen their cybersecurity posture. SMEs can get the assistance they need to safeguard their companies against cyber dangers by joining the consortium,” Shamsul believes.
Shariffa acknowledges the dynamic nature of the cybersecurity landscape, with evolving technologies and adaptable cyber threats posing challenges for enterprises and individuals to stay updated with the latest security measures.
“Malaysia’s government has made several efforts to assist businesses in improving their cybersecurity posture,” she reveals. “Funding a programme to assess SMEs’ cybersecurity; collaborating with the local sector to deliver managed security services to SMEs; and collaborating with telcos to impose basic cybersecurity hygiene on their services are all part of this.”
While the mentioned actions are valuable, there are further steps that businesses and individuals can take to bolster their protection against cyber threats. Staying vigilant and informed about the latest cybersecurity risks is crucial, involving keeping abreast of security news, reading security blogs, and participating in security conferences to stay well-prepared.
Adopting a layered security strategy is essential for businesses, involving the implementation of multiple security measures such as firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection systems to provide comprehensive protection.
For individuals, safeguarding against cyber dangers includes using strong and unique passwords, being cautious while sharing personal information online, and remaining vigilant about potential phishing scams to ensure greater online safety.
Education plays a crucial role in strengthening cybersecurity. Businesses should invest in training their staff to recognise and respond to cybersecurity threats effectively. Additionally, having a well-defined incident response plan ensures a swift and organised reaction to cyber incidents, minimising potential damage.
Regularly testing security systems and conducting vulnerability assessments are essential practices to identify and address potential weaknesses in the network. Keeping software up to date with the latest patches and security updates is a fundamental measure to protect against known vulnerabilities and potential exploits.
“The cybersecurity landscape is continuously evolving, but by taking precautions, organisations and individuals may help keep themselves safe from cyber threats,” Shariffa ends. “Combining various efforts can significantly enhance the cybersecurity posture for both businesses and individuals.”
Trust Building in ASEAN Cybersecurity
David believes that focusing on shared goals is a powerful strategy to build trust and foster collaboration among diverse parties in the realm of cybersecurity. Establishing common objectives, such as protecting critical infrastructure from cyber threats, enables everyone involved to unite their efforts towards a collective purpose, leading to more effective and coordinated cybersecurity measures.
“By aligning interests and recognising mutual benefits, stakeholders can work together in harmony to strengthen cybersecurity and safeguard digital environments,” he says.
Sharing information is indeed a crucial approach to building trust and enhancing cybersecurity efforts among different organisations. While it may be challenging to exchange sensitive data, the benefits of sharing outweigh the risks. Timely and accurate information sharing enables organisations to recognise and respond to cyber threats more swiftly and effectively.
“Cybersecurity is a complex challenge, but we can conquer it if we all work together,” David says. “Organisations can construct a more secure and robust digital infrastructure by breaking down silos across organisations and industries and sharing information.”
David stressed the importance of teamwork in cybersecurity, akin to an international team sport requiring countries to cooperate and work together. Global collaboration with partners worldwide was highlighted, as well as, investing in education and training to raise awareness of cybersecurity risks, and developing new technologies to enhance defence against cyber threats.
“We can make the digital world a safer place for everyone if we all work together,” David is confident.
Shamsul appreciates the necessity of trust for effective cybersecurity collaboration, noting that countries lacking trust are less likely to exchange information or cooperate in responding to cyber threats.
Several initiatives are currently underway in ASEAN to strengthen trust and collaboration among member states. Some of these efforts include:
- The ASEAN Cybersecurity Capacity Building Centres in Thailand and Singapore
- The ASEAN Partners Search Information Sharing (APSIS) initiative
- The ASEAN Cybersecurity Cooperation Strategy, which calls for the establishment of an ASEAN Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT)
“These activities are assisting in the development of trust among ASEAN member states as well as the improvement of the region’s cybersecurity posture,” Shamsul explains. “However, more work remains to be done.”
Establishing a shared understanding of cybersecurity threats and risks presents a key challenge for effective collaboration among ASEAN member states. Different countries may have varying levels of awareness and perception of cyber dangers, making it crucial to bridge the knowledge gap and foster common ground for tackling cybersecurity issues.
Furthermore, ensuring the safe and secure sharing of information is paramount to building trust and promoting collaboration in cybersecurity efforts. Governments and organisations need robust and reliable mechanisms to exchange critical data and threat intelligence without compromising sensitive information or exposing vulnerabilities.
Despite the challenges faced in establishing shared understanding and secure information sharing, the progress made in enhancing cybersecurity collaboration among ASEAN member nations is encouraging. By continuing to work together and build trust, these countries have the potential to create a more secure and resilient digital future for the region.
Shamsul underscored the importance of a “tangible platform” for knowledge sharing, highlighting its role in fostering trust among ASEAN member states and ensuring the secure and confidential exchange of information. Having a reliable and accessible platform can serve as a foundation for effective collaboration, enabling countries to share valuable insights, best practices, and threat intelligence in real-time.
The National Trust Framework serves as a valuable resource for ASEAN countries seeking to enhance their cybersecurity posture, offering a comprehensive set of recommendations to safeguard critical infrastructure, personal data, and sensitive information.
By exploring this framework, ASEAN countries can save time and costs while building a strong cybersecurity architecture, avoiding the need to reinvent the wheel as the framework provides a solid foundation for their efforts.
“ASEAN countries, I believe, may collaborate to localise and harmonise the National Trust Framework,” said Shamsul. “It would enhance the regional cybersecurity architecture and would improve effectiveness and readiness of ASEAN countries against cyber threats.”
According to Shariffa, building effective human firewalls requires confidence in the commitment of individuals and organisations to cybersecurity, which involves open and willing information sharing about security procedures, ultimately fostering trust and creating a safer and more robust digital ecosystem for countries.
ASEAN countries are dedicated to enhancing regional cybersecurity through collaboration, acknowledging their diverse capacities and competencies. They are working on a flexible framework to facilitate cooperation at individual countries’ respective paces.
As a result, ASEAN cybersecurity mechanisms were established to:
- be a valuable resource for ASEAN countries. It will provide them with access to information and expertise that they may not have otherwise had.
- help to improve coordination between ASEAN countries. This will make it easier for them to share information and respond to cyber threats.
- assist in raising awareness of cybersecurity risks in the region to protect individuals and businesses from cyber-attacks.
Shariffa emphasised that the implementation of the mechanism will involve designating a unit within each ASEAN country. This agency will be responsible for collaborating with other ASEAN nations, sharing information on cyber threats and incidents, and providing technical support to other countries.
The creation of this mechanism represents a significant advancement in ASEAN’s efforts to improve cybersecurity. ASEAN countries can better protect themselves from cyber-attacks and build a more secure digital environment for all by working together.
“The creation of the ASEAN cybersecurity mechanism is a great step forward. It demonstrates the region’s dedication to enhancing cybersecurity,” Shariffa ends.
ASEAN’s Commitment to Improve Cybersecurity
David explained that ASEAN’s ministers have approved a plan to establish a regional Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) for the region. The ASEAN CERT will serve as a platform for knowledge sharing and skill-building within the region, complementing the existing national CERTs and working collaboratively to enhance cybersecurity across ASEAN.
The ASEAN CERT will strengthen sharing information about cyber threats and incidents; coordinating CERT capacity building programmes in the region; coming up with and supporting best practices for cybersecurity; and educating people about cybersecurity risks and making them more aware of them.
“The ASEAN CERT is a move in the right direction for the region’s attempts to improve cybersecurity,” said David. “By working together, ASEAN countries can protect themselves better from online threats and make the internet safer for everyone.”
The ASEAN CERT will be a valuable resource for member countries, providing access to knowledge and information that may not have been readily available before. By fostering better collaboration and information sharing among the nations, the ASEAN CERT will enhance their collective ability to address cyber threats effectively and strengthen their cybersecurity posture as a united front.
By providing valuable insights into hacking risks, ASEAN CERT will empower individuals and businesses to better protect themselves from cyber-attacks, contributing to a safer digital environment for all. This initiative showcases the region’s commitment to improving cybersecurity and fostering a collective effort to address cyber threats effectively.
Shamsul shares that the ASEAN CERT will collaborate with both foreign and regional groups to advance ASEAN’s cybersecurity objectives and interests. Currently, there is no official platform for CERTs to communicate with one another, making it vital for ASEAN CERTs to foster collaboration, share knowledge, and exchange best practices.
“This collective effort will strengthen the region’s ability to address cyber threats effectively and establish a more secure digital landscape for all ASEAN member states,” he is confident.
The ASEAN CERT will establish partnerships with businesses and higher education institutions, appreciating the valuable information and expertise they possess to enhance cybersecurity. Collaborating with these sectors ensures access to the latest knowledge and skills, enabling ASEAN CERTs to effectively address emerging cyber threats and trends.
By fostering these alliances, the ASEAN CERT can stay at the forefront of cybersecurity advancements, making the region more resilient and better equipped to safeguard its digital landscape.
Shamsul concurs that the establishment of the ASEAN CERT marks a significant advancement in ASEAN’s efforts to enhance cybersecurity. Through collaboration with international and regional organisations, as well as industry and education sectors, the ASEAN CERT can play a crucial role in creating a safer digital environment for everyone in the region.
By fostering partnerships and sharing knowledge, the ASEAN CERT aims to bolster cybersecurity measures, effectively respond to cyber threats, and promote a more secure digital landscape in the ASEAN community.
Shariffa reiterated support for ASEAN initiatives like ASEAN CERT, highlighting that the Malaysian government is actively engaged in strengthening cybersecurity measures. They are currently working on a new Cybersecurity Bill aimed at granting the National Cyber Security Agency (NACSA) enhanced authority to safeguard the nation’s critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.
The proposed Cybersecurity Bill in Malaysia seeks to enforce robust security measures for critical national information infrastructure (CNII) owners and operators. By mandating appropriate security measures, the bill has the potential to significantly enhance Malaysia’s cybersecurity posture, bolstering the nation’s resilience against cyber threats and safeguarding its vital information assets.
Shariffa explains that the proposed Cybersecurity Bill aims to grant NACSA expanded investigative and response capabilities, while also imposing a requirement for CNII owners and operators to implement robust security measures.
This comprehensive approach would significantly bolster the protection of Malaysia’s critical infrastructure from cyberattacks, thereby reducing the risk of cyber espionage and enhancing the nation’s overall cybersecurity resilience.
Shariffa sees the proposed Cybersecurity Bill as a positive and transformative step that has the potential to make Malaysia a more secure nation in the digital age.
“With its comprehensive measures to strengthen cybersecurity, the bill can significantly enhance Malaysia’s resilience against cyber threats and safeguard the nation’s critical infrastructure and digital ecosystem,” she believes.
The CYDES 2023 event showcased the determination of ASEAN nations to address cybersecurity challenges and advance in this critical domain. With a focus on cooperation, a wealth of cybersecurity expertise and initiatives like the ASEAN CERT, the region is taking substantial steps towards enhancing its cybersecurity posture.
By continuing to invest in cybersecurity measures, fostering collaboration among member states, and leveraging their unique assets, ASEAN countries are well-positioned to create a safer and more secure digital environment for their residents and businesses in the ever-evolving digital age. Together, they can forge a path towards a more resilient and protected ASEAN region in the face of emerging cyber threats.