Creating and embedding digital trust

A Smart Nation can come about only when there is a strong cyber-security ecosystem

The vision for Singapore to become a Smart Nation has topped the national agenda since its introduction in 2014.

Its strategic importance was highlighted at key events this year, such as the National Day Rally in August by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and launch of the Infocomm Media Industry Transformation Map by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim earlier this month.

Indeed, over the last few years, we have seen the progressive digital transformation of our daily interactions with the physical world through apps, accessibility to data and sensor networks combined with smart algorithms that serve to optimise our decision-making.

The digital future holds the promise of a better working world for many generations to come.

In whatever we do, trust is the crucial foundation that determines the depth and richness of our daily interactions.

This principle holds true for the digital world too. Technology is a crucial enabler in building a Smart Nation, but a fundamental success factor is our ability to create and embed digital trust in our daily digital interactions just as we have come to expect in the physical world.

There are three imperatives that are necessary to uphold digital trust amid these challenges.

First, digital trust is dependent on the entire business ecosystem and network of consumers leveraging the technology enablement.

Larger enterprises, especially those in regulated industries, have had a head start in maturing their digital defence capabilities over the years. But smaller businesses or industries may not have access to the same levels of budgets and resources to build and operate such defences.

As they say, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. In a digital economy, hackers can target the smaller businesses as they provide services or interactions with larger businesses, which may be the ultimate target.

To address this risk, businesses and national agencies are pooling resources to strengthen the cyber-security ecosystem, for example, by setting up shared security centres, training cyber-security professionals and developing cyber-security best practices toolkits, to uplift the awareness and basic capabilities among smaller businesses in the ecosystem.


Technology has also outpaced most consumers' ability to understand the implications of their online behaviour, which offers hackers the opportunity to target the unaware consumer.

Thus, more educational outreach by governments and organisations is needed to strengthen our citizens' and employees' awareness of the risks and what one can do to avoid being a victim.

Second, the data we face in the digital future will be of high volume, velocity, variety, and veracity. Relying on human efforts alone to make sense of such data to establish trust and accuracy is near impossible.

While there are maturing disciplines around digital, data science and data visualisation, these skill sets need to be effectively brought together to draw insights or make new discoveries of previously unknown facts.

Third, digital defences have traditionally been focusing solely on implementing preventive controls.

While these remain as hygiene elements that must still exist, we should also strive for a balance between being able to sense that an abnormal or malicious incident is happening and being prepared to respond swiftly when the inevitable attack happens.

Achieving progress on each of these fronts will require a multi-pronged approach. The government needs to provide the necessary support and partner with businesses to strengthen and build up the cyber-security ecosystem.

Corporates - both big and small - must partake in the opportunities that the digital economy brings while adopting a balanced set of cyber-security capabilities that is able to both sense and respond to cyberthreats.

These will help to bolster efforts in achieving the active buy-in and participation of citizens in a climate where they can trust that any personal information shared is protected and materials that are obtained from the digital system is trustworthy.

Clearly, every organisation and individual needs to play their part for Singapore's Smart Nation masterplan to become a reality. Whether we succeed in building digital trust in our data, systems and infrastructure will depend not just on technological muscle alone but on the efforts of all.

The writer is partner and EY Asean cybersecurity leader at Ernst & Young Advisory. This article was published 
in The Business Times on Nov 8.

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