Minister Josephine Teo in Estonia to forge partnerships for a thriving & secure digital future
1. Minister for Communications and Information Mrs Josephine Teo made a work trip to Tallinn, Estonia, where she met with key government leaders and industry players to share experiences and forge partnerships in areas like cybersecurity and digital government. Minister Teo was also invited to speak at the Tallinn Digital Summit (6-7 September), a widely-recognised annual gathering of leaders in digital development worldwide.
2. While attending the Summit, Minister Teo also had substantive discussions with United States Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, United Kingdom Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden and International Telecommunications Union Director Doreen Bogdan-Martin.
3. Considered one of the most digitally advanced societies in the world, Estonia has built a digital ecosystem where 99% of its government services are online, and 99% of its residents have electronic identities. As a constructive international stakeholder in the digital domain, Estonia has also elevated cybersecurity as a key issue to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as part of its rotating Presidency of the UNSC.
4. The Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore, has been broadening and deepening our working relationship1 with Estonia over the years. For example, both Singapore and Estonia actively participate in the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group on security of and in the use of information and communications technologies (OEWG) – the first-ever inclusive UN’s platform on cybersecurity, which is paving the way for the international “rules of the road” in cyberspace.
5. On the significance of Singapore’s participation at the Summit, Minister Teo said: “Singapore is seen as a country that has made credible progress in digital development. This includes our digital infrastructure such as 5G, smart nation and digital government initiatives such as our national digital identity Singpass, and programmes for digital inclusion such as SMEs and Seniors Go Digital. Besides being a platform to share our experience, the Summit is a good opportunity for us to learn from the best-in-class players in areas like digital regulations. It also allows us to seek out like-minded partners to advance international cooperation, for example, in cybersecurity.”
Singapore as a constructive stakeholder in cybersecurity
6. As part of her participation in the Tallinn Digital Summit, Minister Teo spoke at a panel discussion themed: “The Leap to a More Resilient Cyberspace” on 7 September. During the discussion, panellists discussed the following:
i. On cyber threats and the cybersecurity landscape: The panellists agreed that cyber threats are transnational. They seriously threaten critical infrastructure and can affect vital government services. Minister Teo shared that cybersecurity has become a “wicked” problem that cannot be “solved once and for all”. This has, in turn, led to Singapore changing our cybersecurity posture from emphasising preventive measures to adopting an “assume breach” mindset, which assumes systems have been breached or compromised so that there would be constant vigilance and monitoring to identify the breaches.
She added that in the actual event of a breach, it would be critical for governments to have already put in place response mechanisms for swift recovery. Clear and timely communications would also be essential to maintain public trust.
ii. On solutions to counter cyber security threats: Several panellists highlighted the importance of raising public education on cyber hygiene and preventive measures. Minister Teo agreed and added that Singapore viewed cybersecurity as a shared responsibility and described the strategies Singapore had been taking at various levels to raise cyber resilience.
At the enterprise level, she cited the practicality of cybersecurity toolkits and the SG Cyber Safe Trustmark to help enterprises be recognised for their good cyber practices. At the national level, Minister Teo shared Singapore’s sector-specific responses, enabling sectors themselves to actively play a role in designing cybersecurity measures that would be tailored to their needs.
At the international level, Minister Teo agreed with fellow panellists, who suggested better international cooperation to identify and take action against cyberattacks. On this, she shared Singapore’s contributions as the chair of the OEWG over the next five years will seek to strengthen rules-based international order in cyberspace. She also highlighted Singapore’s efforts in setting up the ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence to build capacity and share information.
iii. On approach to expenditure and investment in cybersecurity: Minister Teo said that there was no “right” answer and fixed value for cybersecurity expenditure. Instead, she advocated for leaders of organisations to understand the risk profile of their organisations and muster the appropriate amount of resources to protect their digital assets. She shared that Singapore encouraged organisations to do their risk assessment and apportion their budgets accordingly, rather than the bare minimum to meet compliance requirements.
Forging international collaboration with like-minded partners
7. As part of Singapore’s efforts to step up on international collaboration in the digital domain, Minister Teo also signed a new MOU with Estonia’s Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Andres Sutt on 6 September. Key areas of cooperation include greater market access for companies from both countries; facilitating more collaboration between startups from both countries; and supporting the digitalisation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and mid-caps from both countries. Cooperation in cybersecurity would also be strengthened under the MOU with both countries committing to share expertise in cybersecurity policies and protection of Critical Information Infrastructure (CII), as well as participate in cyber threat-related operations.
8. Minister Teo also met several Estonia political office holders, including President Kersti Kaljulaid and Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva Maria Liimetson. Minister Teo will also be visiting Estonian companies, including their unicorns Bolt2 and Veriff3 today (8 September), to learn more about the innovation and start-up ecosystem in Estonia, as well as seek potential collaborations for Singapore companies and agencies.
1 In July 2021, an Estonian delegation led by its President Kersti Kaljulaid participated in-person at Singapore’s inaugural Asia Tech x Singapore. For Singapore, Minister Josephine Teo’s participation at the TDS is the second time a Singapore’s Political Office Holder visited Tallinn, Estonia for the TDS. The first time was when SMS Janil Puthucheary was the Head of Delegation for Singapore at the TDS in 2018.
2 Bolt is an Estonian mobility company that provides transportation, car sharing and food delivery services.
3 Veriff is an Estonian startup specializing in digital identity. It employs artificial intelligence to provide a suite of services for businesses to mitigate identity fraud and identity theft.