By: B Goode
When you needed the Prime Minister himself to clear the air regarding an issue, you knew that someone somewhere had screwed-up big time. And if that someone was supposed to be in-charged of government communication….nevermind, we’ll let it pass since this is the fasting month after all.
I am of course talking about the government directive that came out of the blue to delink the internet from civil servants’ workstations. Because the communication wasn’t handled properly, the internet blew up with allegations and accusations of the government taking the country back to the stone age. Mostly from the nerds though.
If you put a nerd in solitary confinement and denied him internet access, he’d beg you to put a bullet through his head to end his misery. I am not even joking. So when there was a directive stating that civil servants would no longer have internet access, the rage from the nerds actually put Singapore on top of the internet trending. Then we had the ministers and even the prime minister wading in to calm the situation down because it was not the type of trending that we should be proud of.
When I first heard of the directive, my reaction was: WTF? Why wasn’t this done earlier?
Allow me, your Captain Obvious to give a simple analogy as to why de-linking government’s workstations from the internet is a good idea and should have been done much, much earlier.
Imagine you walking into a CPF branch to enquire about…CPF (duh!). Most probably you will be entertained by a CPF auntie. She will ask for your particulars and input them into the workstation in front of her and voila! Whatever you need to know about your CPF will appear like magic on the screen.
But it is not magic. Her workstation is actually connected to a huge database containing not only yours’ but every single CPF member’s particulars and data. If you were a fan of the X-men, imagine the workstation as Professor X and the database as Cerebro. Nerd detected!
Imagine after you are done with your queries, you leave the place and because it is an off-peak period, the CPF aunty has got some time in her hands and decides to check her private e-mail from the workstation. She sees an email from some obscure website that offers free facial. She decides to click on the link and lo and behold, it is actually a virus!
Imagine that workstation has now been infected by a trojan or keylogger and a hacker somewhere in Pyongyang is happily accessing the workstation and all the data that the workstation has accessed to.
Now imagine the smartnation initiative, a project that links all government databases into one. That CPF workstation is now connected to the databases of the NRD, ICA, CID, NEA, HDB, POSB and whatever four-letter words you can think of.
Now imagine one day you decide to check on your CPF and find it empty, your ICA record shows that you have travelled to Syria, you are wanted by the police for an offence that you didn’t commit, wanted by the ISD because you have transferred some money to a Muhammad Islam in Bangladesh, wanted by the FBI for some dodgy accounts in Panama, wanted by the LTA for some parking offences although you don’t own a car, and your name has been changed to Kim Jong Nam.
The above scenario is not a figment of my rampant imagination. Truth be told, I’d rather imagine having sex with Kim Kardashian. But unlike my imagination which will never happen, the above scenario can and will happen if the government’s internet architecture is not hardened. And the best way to harden it is to totally delink all the workstations from the internet.
But the government servants will not be deprived of an internet connection. They can still access their favourite porn sites or update their facebook from standalone computers or from their smartphones.
And because it doesn’t require an internet connection, they can still play solitaire.