Here’s how the public service decided that its computers will not have an Internet connection
We imagine what the submission that proposed this initiative looked like. Satire alert
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It was reported that come May 2017, public servants will not be getting access to the Internet on their work computers for fear of being hacked. They will access the Internet using their own personal mobile devices or a shared Internet-connected computer.
We imagine what the submission (Civil service speak for “proposal”) that rubberstamped this initiative would look like:
Prime Minister (Hand-delivered)
cc PS/PSD (Pigeon-delivered)
DS/PSD (Smoke signal-delivered)
PROPOSAL ON WHETHER SINGAPORE’S PUBLIC SERVICE SHOULD SWITCH TO AIR-GAPPED COMPUTERS FOR EVERY PUBLIC SERVANT
In light of the rising threat of hackers and cyber-terrorism, Singapore’s public service must
devolve itself to meet this threat head-on. With approximately 100,000 computers used by public servants on a daily basis for tasks such as emailing, research, running Singapore, surfing Amazon and Facebook, and booking movie tickets, the reality is that there are many vulnerable points of entry for hackers.
2 This proposal seeks PM’s decision on whether the public service should go ahead and air-gap (zero connection to the Internet) 100,000 computers used by the public service.
Views from Ministries/Agencies
Infocomm Development Authority (IDA)
3 IDA has been running trials with this air-gapped computer initiative since April 2016. And in 60 days of testing, IDA has foreseen that nothing could go wrong with this approach.
4 IDA has also studied how MOE is considering charging teachers a parking fee on the basis that other public servants are also paying for parking fees. In light of this equal misery approach, IDA is of the view that the rest of the public service should join IDA and other security agencies such as SAF and SPF in the air-gapped computer initiative. It is so easy.
National Productivity and Continuing Education Council (NPCEC)
5 NPCEC has studied public servant work behaviour and found that productivity can be increased once public servants are not bothered by pointless emails, especially those that start with “Pse see”, “Pse discuss”, “See below”, “FYI, pls”. NPCEC recommends to ban emails along with Internet access.
6 NPCEC notes that just two days ago, an inefficient civil servant was working past midnight surfing Facebook and responding to a website called TR Emeritus. This would not have happened if that civil servant did not have Internet access.
Speak Good English Movement (SGEM)
7 In light of the recent New York Times commentary celebrating Singlish, SGEM, in a bid to stay relevant, recommends that this air-gapped computer initiative be named after a meme from the popular culture from the United States. This would help steer Singaporeans away from Singlish to a more acceptable level of English used by youths in the West.
8 SGEM proposes that this initiative be called “Public Service Breaks the Internet”.
Ministry of Defence (Mindef)
9 Mindef concurs with IDA’s equal misery approach. Mindef further recommends that every public service agency have a designated Agency Regimental Sergeant Major Correcting Highly Inappropriate Office-bearing (ARSMCHIO). The ARSMCHIO will ensure public servants are dressed appropriately and behave appropriately (like not taking stupid peronality tests on Facebook which are actually viruses). The ARSMCHIO has the authority to hand out extras.
10 Separately, Mindef would like to share the story of Stuxnet, the world’s first digital ‘weapon’. Stuxnet was a malware used to infect computers in a nuclear power plant in Iran in 2009. The malware infected computers that were controlling centrifuges that enriched uranium gas.
11 Interestingly, all computers in the Iranian nuclear power plant were air-gapped (no Internet access). Stuxnet managed to get into the computers via USB flash drives. Technicians unwittingly plugged in these USB flash drives not knowing the drives were infected. The flash drives were probably infected when plugged into non-secure computers, or technicians may have been gifted or picked up infected drives from the floor.
12 With malware able to control centrifuges, at best it would have been a costly disruption to Iran’s nuclear power, at worst it would have been a catastrophic nuclear event. This is a scenario Mindef would not like for Singapore.
13 As such, Mindef recommends that all public service agencies stop giving out USB flash drives during annual D&D events as commemorative gifts to prevent malware infection. Mindef recommends giving better year-end bonuses instead.
Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)
14 MHA concurs with this move to prevent or reduce the risk of cyber attacks. In the same vein, MHA proposes and recommends that our borders be closed from all external visitors, much like how public service computers are closed from web traffic. This is to prevent or reduce the risk of terrorist attacks on our soil.
15 This could also prevent incidents like two individuals who were able to ram their way through the Causeway checkpoints last year, with one even driving their way to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – who are already using air-gapped computers.
16 We are of the view that given the merits of using air-gapped computers and the potential threats we can avoid, air-gapping computers is the best course of action. The alternative is to go back to using Lotus Notes. We opine that air-gapped computers is the lesser of two evils.
17 We do not foresee any drawbacks – for e.g. countless public servants sharing their grouses on Facebook this morning right after news of air-gapped computers being implemented was released. In fact, without Internet access, public servants can no longer complain about work during work hours. Nyahahahahaha.
18 If anything does go wrong, we will blame the comms team.
19 For PM’s wax-seal approval, please.
Ngoh Wai Fai
Chief Common Sense Officer
Public Service Division / Prime Minister’s Office
With inputs from IDA, NPCEC, SGEM, Mindef, and MHA
Top image from Smart Nation Singapore Facebook