Scholars' experience Details

Hackers beware! She is on guard against cyber attacks, even before they strike

Published 23 Jul 2021

Captions: HTX engineer Valencia Yoong protects the Home Team’s online systems with her expertise in cloud and cyber security technologies. PHOTO: WINSTON CHUANG

 

By Toh Ee Ming

At any time of the day, Singapore’s Home Team could be the target of multiple cyber attacks – from attempted intrusions into its network, via malware, ransomware and phishing, to synchronized attacks to crash its Web-based services.

For one thing, hackers may infiltrate systems at checkpoints or intercept critical systems that could possibly disrupt emergency response services which may lead to serious consequences.

The main line of defence is the 24/7 Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Security Operations Centre (SOC), which directly monitors, detects and thwarts cyber attacks. What most people do not realise is the effort being channelled to keep such cyber defences running.

The responsibility falls on people like HTX (Home Team Science and Technology Agency) engineer Valencia Yoong, who develops the tech solutions used for such cyber defences. The 23-year-old is part of the Cybersecurity Technology Stack team within the Joint Capabilities Programme Management Centre at HTX.

 

KEEPING WATCH FOR CYBER RISKS

One major task was to upgrade SOC’s control room to include new tools so that MHA can continue to have a bird’s-eye view of the entire infrastructure system that covers key agencies such as the Singapore Prison Service, the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore Police Force, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and Central Narcotics Bureau. Ms Yoong’s team is also responsible for incorporating new tools to streamline processes and make the system more “proactive” in flagging suspicious activities, boosting vigilance against heightened cyber risks.

Another major initiative that Ms Yoong is involved in is the MHA Cloud project, where she, as a project manager, and her team are in charge of designing, procuring, evaluating, implementing and testing security solutions as MHA migrates less-sensitive systems from on-premises infrastructure to the cloud.

 

DIVING INTO THE DEEP END

Ms Yoong first read about the work of HTX in a news article last year. She was struck by how HTX scientists were able to quickly develop a Covid-19 test kit that produces results within three hours.

“At that time, most of the other test kits were still in development, but the HTX scientists were very agile and managed to create a solution very quickly,” she recalls.

Ms Yoong visited the HTX website to find out more about the newly formed statutory board. She learnt that it has played wide-ranging roles in supporting the Home Team’s efforts. Ms Yoong, who has a double degree in aerospace engineering and economics from Nanyang Technological University, decided to apply to HTX and joined the statutory board’s Science & Technology Associate Programme in December last year.

At first, it was a steep learning curve as she had little knowledge about the cyber security field.

To beef up her technical knowledge, Ms Yoong ploughed through readings and attended training on cloud technologies. Her colleagues and supervisors were also very helpful in answering her questions.

For her, one of the best things about working at HTX is its young and vibrant culture. The agency has an informal vibe and a relatively flat hierarchical structure, similar to that of technology start-ups in Silicon Valley.

Ms Yoong feels that regardless of job rank, everyone is encouraged to make a difference and her supervisors are receptive to new ideas. For instance, associates get the freedom to kick-start new projects to improve operations in the various Home Team departments, while receiving funding and guidance from industry experts and technical specialists.

There is also a diverse mix of associates from fields ranging from mathematics to chemical or mechanical engineering.

Since joining HTX seven months ago, Ms Yoong says it has been an eye-opening experience to understand what it takes behind the scenes to protect Singapore in cyberspace.

“On the ground, you see only things like police cameras or biometric systems. But now that I am working at HTX, it is heartening to be part of this huge group of people who work hard behind the scenes to tap on technology to enhance public safety for the residents.

“Being at HTX has given me a sense of purpose because I know that the work I am doing now will make a difference to people in the future,” she says.

Visit go.gov.sg/mhascholarships to apply.