Monday, December 06, 2010

Singapore Cyberattacked and Cyberspied On

The Straits Times reported it during the weekend, and Yahoo has a more detailed story of how Singapore was cyberattacked during the APEC summit last year. The choice of the word "cyberterrorist" was misleadingly odd as the article was more "cyberespionage" and the theft of confidential information rather than the shutdown of critical national infrastructure through computer hacking.

No finger-pointing of those pulling the strings was made but one likely culprit could be the Chinese, the guys who brought down Google on a whim if the latest Wikileaks based on US assessments are accurate. From the comments in the Yahoo article, the Chinese had their Ghostnet going for some time before it was exposed last year and Singapore was probably one of Ghostnet's victims, especially since it was the host to APEC then. It was a good time to steal information from the organiser on what was happening with APEC and the meetings.

So espionage still exists in Singapore but I doubt it is the sensational level like that among the great powers. Who can forget that romanticised media hype on the Russian spy ring exposed this year in the USA and the Cold War era type of US-Russia spy exchange as a result of those FBI arrests.

The APEC cyberespionage case aside, Singapore is not new in the spying and spycatching game. Earlier this decade, the Australians accused Singapore of stealing Australian military secrets when Singtel hungrily eyed Down Under's Optus. Allegations of spying on Australia was the natural drum to beat in the context of encouraging nationalistic paranoia on a Singapore company buying into an Australian telco. The hilarious implication I found behind that allegation was that Singapore was spying on the Australian's military so that the PAP government can take back Christmas Island. Why else would Singapore care about the Australian's defence capabilities? Singapore also arrested spies working here before but we would never know the extent of other cases that went unreported or spies uncaught.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Cablegate and Singapore

Since MM Lee Kuan Yew's frank opinions were revealed in Cablegate, what more will be revealed and just as interesting, what won't be revealed related to Singapore? Some Singaporeans saw MM Lee Kuan Yew's comments on the North Korean despot as ironic. Others had more perspective and saw that MM Lee still has some global political influence left. What next related to Singapore will the Wikileaks cabal of selected Western newspapers reveal next? Would the cabal reveal or not reveal opinions on Singapore leaders, the opposition and other issues on Singapore? Furthermore, while the context is not identical, this leak of confidential government papers for foreign policy ends reminded me of Singapore's release of official correspondence with Malaysia during the Mahathir era. This calculated leak by Singapore was over Malaysia's backtracking on bilateral matters and to show that Malaysia then didn't keep its word.

The US State Department was aware of the leaks much earlier and the four main European broadsheets plus the New York Times negotiated with the US on what should be released even, as implied by The Guardian's editorial on Sunday. The Washington Post has a story to tell on its East Coast rival New York Times i.e. the NYT got the leak from a leak from The Guardian as Wikileaks excluded the NYT in the latest round of leaks for its harsh stance on Assange in recent months. Despite this horseplay surrounding the leaks, what is interesting was whether the US had informed our Singapore MFA that the leaks were coming since the US claimed that they alerted their allies beforehand. If they did not, or if they did, it hints of how big Singapore is in the pond of global diplomacy in the US's eyes.

The recent themes on Cablegate were that diplomacy is exposed for its hypocrisy, historians are having a time of their life, asymmetric online journalism is alive and well, and leaks have gone on to a new levels of anarchy and transparency. Cablegate would last for a new more days or even a week or two before the novelty would wear off. For now, it is a good business ploy that is repeatable as Cablegate and the War Diaries have shown, until Assange is arrested since he is now an Interpol wanted man. For Assange, it is a game he started and raised the stakes with the release of the War Diaries, and the US is going to finish it for him.

Were Assange's leaks irresponsible? The jury is still out on this but common sense is that there is a limit to what information should be confidential and what should not. Lawyer-client and doctor-patient information, insider trading as illegal, and a country's military and security information are all different common sense examples that information is not a free-for-all show and tell, and that consequences to such disclosures are expected.