20-year-old SP grad who got his first laptop at 17 is now founder & CEO of cybersecurity organisation

Cybersecurity is more than just using anti-virus.

| Jason Fan | Sponsored | January 06, 2021, 06:00 PM

You probably know that it’s a bad idea to use 123456 for your iBanking password, and you’ve probably installed the free antivirus software you received when you bought your laptop at the PC show.

But what do you really know about cybersecurity, and its increasing importance in the modern world?

If you’re anything like me, then your knowledge on the subject is likely to be pretty minimal.

Huh. Is there really a need to be well-versed in cybersecurity?

I get it. You probably aren’t part of a top-secret organisation that deals with valuable information on a daily basis.

It isn’t surprising that you, an average joe, may not feel the need to bother with cybersecurity.

However, this cannot be further away from the truth.

A survey conducted by the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) earlier this year revealed that more than a quarter of Singapore residents faced at least one cyber incident in the past 12 months.

These incidents include falling prey to online scams, losing financial information to hackers and being impersonated by hackers.

Perhaps more worryingly, while a significant proportion of respondents were concerned about cybersecurity incidents in general, a much smaller group thought they would actually fall victim to an online scam or fraud.

What does this mean? It means that while Singaporeans are aware of the danger posed by cyber-threats, they are overconfident in their abilities to deal with them.

How do I find out more about cybersecurity?

So where does one go to find out more about cybersecurity?

Well, after reading the Wikipedia entry on the word in length, and not understanding even half of the terms, I decided the best way to know more about the topic is to get someone who is more knowledgeable to explain it to me.

However, getting someone appropriate to speak to wasn’t exactly an easy task.

Luckily, a quick google search led me to a YouTube video, featuring Ben Chua, a recent graduate from Singapore Polytechnic’s (SP) School of Computing. who runs a non-profit organisation called Cyber Youth Singapore (CYS).


The 20-year-old, is both the first President and current CEO of a youth-led organisation called Cyber Youth Singapore (CYS), a non-profit which advocates for strong cyber security awareness in Singapore.

And this is how I ended up meeting Chua, who I realised to be far more mature and forward thinking than most youths his age.

Cybersecurity is often overlooked

I first met Chua a week after he completed his basic military training (BMT) in the army.

While I initially felt terrible for taking up his precious rest time (if I were him, I would still be at home sleeping), it turned out that I wasn’t even his first appointment of the day.

The 20-year-old has been busy meeting up with potential partners for CYS, and appeared to have a schedule that wouldn’t be out of place for a busy executive.

After all, the organisation has over 1,000 members after being established less than a year ago, and the numbers are rising fast.

Image via Ben Chua.

During the session, I asked him the golden questions: What exactly is cybersecurity all about? Are my passwords safe? Is using incognito mode enough?

Chua was rather amused at all my questions, but humoured me enough to respond to most of them.

For example, a basic aspect of cybersecurity is adopting good digital habits, such as using uncommon and different passwords across different platforms, or knowing what NOT to download (shady pop-up that claims they can make you rich? Don’t click that).

He also said that cybersecurity is one of those things that are often overlooked, until something terrible happens.

In a way, it’s like how we don’t really think about closing the windows at home, until one day a burglar breaks in, and steals everything.

Too little, too late.

Cybersecurity habits should be taught early

While we were on the topic, Chua also told me more about Cyber Youth Singapore (CYS), and its goals.

Chua revealed that his goal was simple: to push Singapore to become a more cyber-resilient Smart Nation.

Image via Ben Chua.

“As technology becomes more pervasive in our lives, it is critical for every Singaporean to be educated on the proper way to use their digital devices,” said Chua.

He also hopes that in the near future, cybersecurity can be inculcated into early education curriculums, given that many children now come into contact with technology at a young age.

“To teach cybersecurity to a child is like teaching him or her how to cross the road; if they are taught early, they will naturally know how to look left and right before crossing the road,” said Chua.

To him, it’s important that children are taught correct cybersecurity habits early, so that they will never forget them.

He got his first laptop in poly

Given Chua’s obvious enthusiasm for cybersecurity, you can be forgiven to assume that he spent most of his childhood on a computer.

In fact, Chua had his first personal laptop only when he entered polytechnic, citing his “very conservative parents”, who were against screen time in the household.

“I think many cybersecurity people you will come across, they will usually have very interesting stories, like being hacked by someone, before deciding to pick up cybersecurity as a career”, he said with obvious amusement.

His first year in polytechnic was tough, given that most of his peers were already coding, while he was still figuring out how to use his laptop properly.

Not only was the course content something completely new to him, but he also had to adapt to the polytechnic curriculum, which was vastly different from secondary school as well.

However, he persevered, and his experience was what led to the formation of CYS.

“I think the starting of CYS was really because of the struggle that I faced. I didn’t want any other youth to face that kind of apprehension, or that kind of ‘lostness’ that I felt,” he said.

Image via Ben Chua.

In essence, he wanted to ensure that youth who were interested in entering the industry will have a safe and welcoming environment to do so, no matter what their background is.

CYS’s first meet-up was held within the SP campus

With this in mind, in 2019, Chua held CYS’s first youth meet-up within the SP campus, which drew the attention of around 70 youths at the time.

Image via Ben Chua.

However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for CYS, given that securing funding for the event proved more difficult than they had anticipated.

“At the start, no one believed in the vision of CYS,” remarked Chua, who said it was “quite difficult” to gather support from the industry.

“We were running on fumes,” admitted Chua, who had already used his internship pay to fund the non-profit’s operating expenses.

Luckily, their salvation would come in the form of a local cybersecurity company, who gave them their first $11,000 to carry out their event.

Chua said that their leadership saw the value that CYS brought to the industry, and recognised their potential.

This turned out to be the organisation’s turning point, as industry leaders such as Singtel and Ensign began to approach them shortly after, showing support for their cause.

Aspires to get a degree in Computing and Law

And what drives Chua to manage such a massive operation, especially one that is a non-profit organisation?

Image via Ben Chua.

“To be honest, it was really tiring. I couldn’t watch Netflix, or spend time with my family like other people. But I don’t regret it, because I think it is something I really enjoy doing, and something which I find purpose in doing,” said Chua.

For Chua, his immediate goal revolves around ensuring that CYS remains a stable and sustainable organisation.

He hopes to get a degree in Computing and Law in the future, and aspires to specialise in cyber policies and governance in the long run.

This sponsored article by Singapore Polytechnic made the writer wish he was more productive in his youth.

Top images via Ben Chua.