17 July 2023
Permanent Secretary for Defence Mr Chan Heng Kee, distinguished delegates from ASEAN defence establishments, ACICE Advisory Board and experts panel members, eminent speakers, ladies, and gentlemen.
Good morning and a warm welcome to the inaugural Digital Defence Symposium, co-organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and the ADMM Cybersecurity and Information Centre of Excellence (ACICE).
This symposium brings together defence, academic and industry experts from Southeast Asia and beyond to network and discuss contemporary defence issues relating to cybersecurity, strategic communications and information threats, the intersection of emerging technologies with the cyber and information issues, and civilian-military partnerships in the defence of the digital domain.
This symposium is also a prelude to the official launch of the ADMM Cybersecurity and Information Centre of Excellence (ACICE), which was approved at the 15th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) held virtually in June 2021. That meeting noted the significant role that the ACICE could play to enhance multilateral cooperation among ASEAN defence establishments against cyber-attacks, misinformation, and disinformation.
I am glad to see that the symposium has received your strong support, with participants from ASEAN member states, and international experts joining us here today. I hope that we can leverage on this strong support for ASEAN cooperation to enhance our region’s defence and resilience against common security challenges.
Why is digital defence important?
ASEAN is one of the fastest growing internet markets in the world. We are in an era of unprecedented transformation in human history. Digitalisation has changed and complicated our living, playing, and working to a level beyond the imagination of our parents and grandparents.
We are also recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic which is still threatening parts of our world. Economic recovery is still uncertain in many countries hit by COVID-19. At the same time, climate change is no longer something we can afford to ignore. The weather we know is changing. The nature we take for granted is evolving in response to intensive human activities.
The most important thing going forward in these challenging times is good public policy and efficiency of public governance. In achieving this, digitalisation will play an indispensable role. Therefore, the digital domain is no longer for the small number of experts and scientists. All of us – yes, everyone – must understand and work with digital appliances, statistics, and systems!
The changes and threats from digitalisation are coming at us fast and furious. The known and unknown risks from emerging digital technologies pose an additional dimension of this challenge. How to protect our respective computer systems, data, critical information infrastructures, and online platforms that our people use every day to connect, communicate, transact, and exchange information? The existing policy measures cannot cope!
To address the many “unknowns”, it is necessary to take a foresightful approach to analyse them, share information and experiences so that we can develop better technical and institutional capabilities, and relevant policies at the national and regional levels. It is also important to understand the vastness, borderlessness and fluidity of the digital domain.
The digital domain can be described as comprising three layers. The first layer is Physical, which includes routers, Internet-of-Thing devices, data servers and wireless base stations that are hardware we use to transmit data. The second layer is Logical, which comprises data and code such as software, algorithms, operating systems, and smartphone apps. These two layers form the cyber space where cyber-attacks occur.
The third layer is Virtual, which comprises the online experiences of and information exchange among people and organisations. This layer forms the information space where its connectivity and AI-driven interactions expose people and organisations to misinformation and disinformation, and malicious activities against their digital identities. These in turn could influence human cognition and undermine national cohesion and trust at the level of individual countries.
With these layers in mind – Physical, Logical, and Virtual – this symposium will have three panels for deliberation and exchange of views. The first panel focuses on cyber challenges. The second panel looks at information challenges. The third panel underscores the reality where civilian and military entities are all important players in the digital domain and how their intersections affect our sense of security and well-being.
In closing, the defence of the digital domain, which comprises the cyber space and information space, is essential to the digital transformation of ASEAN member states. ASEAN defence establishments have an important role to play in keeping abreast of the complex landscape where malicious cyber and information activities are constantly evolving and where agitators are trying to steer the situation to their respective advantage.
I wish you all fruitful discussions.
Last updated on 18/07/2023