Well, Mr Cheng is right

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Former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), Calvin Cheng, has ripped into critics of the government for not standing with the authorities in the Singhealth data breach incident.

Mr Cheng is often criticised online for his pro-government stance on issues (although of late he seems to disagree with the government more often). His latest Facebook postings on the security breach, however, is right on the money – Singaporeans should stand with the government as it deals with what is a serious intrusion into our national security.

I find it terrible that some people are using the cyber-hacking of Singhealth to attack the PM and our Government,” Mr Cheng wrote on 21 July. “From what we know, it was another nation-state that launched this attack. To put it bluntly, it was an act of war.”

Mr Cheng, in his inimitable take-no-prisoner style, slammed critics of the government:

“So it’s like another country just launched a missile at us, and instead of taking this threat against our country seriously and rally around the state, these people starts to attack our Government instead. W*F?!”

Whether one regards it as an “act of war” or something less serious (although the theft of 1.5m patients’ personal data is quite serious indeed), whether one places the blame on the government or not, the fact is that we – Singaporeans – have had our personal property stolen by what experts say could only be state-actors.

But it is more than just theft of personal property that the perpetrators were trying to make a point of. Whoever is responsible for the breach perhaps chose Singapore for another reason – that even the best in cyber security can be hacked, compromised. And to drive that point home, the Prime Minister himself was targeted – successfully.

As Mr Cheng pointed out, again rightly, Singapore is the best (ranked number 1 by the United Nations) in cyber security.

“You think you can do better?”, Mr Cheng rhetorically asked. “What’s better than number 1?”

Security experts have said that the sophisticated attack on our healthcare system meant that only those with huge resources could have carried it out, and this could only mean state-sponsored hackers.

“And only a handful – Russia, China, Israel, US – can do it,” Mr Cheng said.

The government itself, however, has not pointed fingers at anyone in particular. Investigations are still ongoing.

“But if China or Russia decides to attack us, how do you think we will fare?” Mr Cheng asked.

Recall the Terrexes incident in 2016, when a much bigger power seized  our military property. The eventual standoff lasted 3 months, with that power, China, refusing to return the 9 Infantry Carrier Vehicles to us after confiscating them while they were in transit in Hong Kong on the way to Singapore.

It took patient diplomatic discussions with the Chinese authorities before the vehicles were finally returned to us.

China’s actions were seen as bullying, a warning to Singapore over its (Singapore’s) positions on several issues which the Chinese were purportedly unhappy with, including Singapore’s stance on the disputed islands in the South China Sea.

The terrexes incident should remind us all that as Singaporeans, even if we disagree with the government over national or domestic issues (MPs’ parking fees, cost of living, electoral politics, National Service, etc), it is no reason to stand apart from it when others are attacking or bullying us.

The government, after all, represents us, whether we like it or not.

And if we do not stand with it in such instances, then who do we stand with to protect our interests?

So, Mr Cheng is right. Let us not be blinded by our anger or unhappiness of the government that we would choose to throw stones at them even as unseen enemies hide in the shadows and launch arrows at us.

We stand divided if we do not stand together.

This doesn’t mean that we do not question where the authorities may have failed in the Singhealth security breach. Indeed, even if our security chiefs speak nonsense, as the chief of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore, David Koh, did, we should call them out on it. (See here.)

And we should continue to scrutinise everything that the government does to right what may have gone wrong. Indeed, doctors have raised serious concerns about the security of patients’ data which they will have to upload to the national database when the law comes into effect. (See here.)

But when it comes to external threats, we must be clear where we stand.

“What we need now is to rally around our Government and support them if they decide to retaliate against the nation-state that launched this act of cyber-warfare against us,” Mr Cheng said.

“Not take pot-shots with snide comments and hateful remarks from behind your computer screen.”

Yup.