Singapore cautions against security risks ahead of presidential election


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Singapore is readying its population to guide against online threats and foreign interference in the lead up to the country’s upcoming presidential election. 

The general public and potential presidential candidates have been warned about malicious online activities, including misinformation and disinformation, data theft, and disruption, and advised to take measures to mitigate such risks. 

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Scheduled to take place on September 1, the Presidential Election will move ahead if more than one candidate qualifies to run — a decision that will be announced on August 22, after applicants are assessed by the election and community committees. Singapore’s president serves a six-year term as head of state, with the role largely symbolic, and as custodian of the country’s reserves. 

To date, six applications have been submitted, including one from former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam who was previously Deputy Prime Minister. Current President Halimah Yacob was elected uncontested in 2017 and is not seeking re-election. 

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In statements released this week, various government ministries and agencies including the Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore Police Force, and Cyber Security Agency of Singapore, pointed to reports of alleged foreign interference in elections of other nations. These included the US President Election and Mid-Term Elections in 2020 and 2018, respectively, and the French Presidential Elections in 2017. 

“Singapore is not immune,” the government agencies said. “Singapore’s politics should be decided by Singaporeans alone. We should do all we can to safeguard the integrity of our electoral processes.”

They said Singapore must brace against online attempts to disrupt election processes or cast doubts on the integrity of the election. 

Election candidates are urged to take the necessary steps to better understand potential threats and safeguard their cybersecurity postures. 

“Candidates should find out more about the precautionary measures they can take to protect their IT infrastructure, online and social media accounts, as well as the storage and management of their data. They are also advised to stay vigilant by monitoring their platforms for suspicious activity and not re-share posts or tweets of suspicious provenance,” the government agencies said. 

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Data, for instance, can be compromised via social engineering, malware infection, or software vulnerabilities, among other tactics. When breached, the data can be sold or published and may potentially damage the credibility of political parties and candidates. Threat actors could also use the data to facilitate more attacks on other IT systems, further disrupting campaign activities. 

Election candidates should ensure their IT systems and digital assets are secured, with one person dedicated to assume responsibility for the campaign’s cybersecurity posture, the government agencies said. 

They also reminded the general public to “observe appropriate online conduct” during the election period and to refrain from behaviors that violate existing laws. 

For example, individuals who share or repost misinformation and disinformation may be liable for communicating false messages under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. 

Actions also can be taken against individuals who “communicate online falsehoods or misleading or manipulated content” under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA). An offence is deemed to have occurred if they are found to have knowingly communicated these falsehoods.

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