Change to be More Security-minded

Singaporeans have the habit of “reserving” tables at foodcourts before going to buy their food. Items used to do this range from packs of tissues to newspapers to small foldable umbrellas.

Recently, however, I was flabbergasted to see several security tags belonging to employees of a major American technology company being placed on a table at the foodcourt of a local mall.

These security tags allow users to gain entry to the company’s premises. I had assumed that employees from this company would be more security-minded than to leave the tags on an unguarded table during a busy lunch period. The irony is that this company’s products and services center around security, including cyber security.

This is also a reminder that cyber attacks today, according to numerous studies, cost the global economy about US$400 billion a year.

It’s not going to get better – a research firm estimates that this figure will quintuple to US$2.1 trillion by 2019.

Earlier this year, the central bank of Bangladesh lost US$81 million to hackers over the course of several hours from its account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And it could have been worse: The attackers had tried to withdraw more than US$900 million.

Another study found that organizations in the region face a 45% higher risk of a targeted cyber attack than the global average, with one in four such attacks aimed at governments.

And companies in this region take an average of 17 months to find out they had been attacked, more than twice as long as the global average, said yet another study. So, please, plan on using more iron-clad passwords for a start!

Those of us from Singapore live, for the most part, in a relatively safe environment.

Living in a low-risk environment, personal security is something that is generally taken for granted; unwatched and unminded, where everything miraculously sort of takes care of itself.

After a few years of living and working overseas, it occurred to me that a gunshot wound was never any further than a small misunderstanding away.

I don’t go to concerts, soccer games, or engage in any indoor activity that has orders of magnitude more people than the building has exits.

That might sound silly to you but I’ve seen way too many crazy things in my life.

I never sit in a restaurant with my back facing the entrance.

And you’ll never see me using a ferry in the Philippines. Year after year, these under-maintained, overcrowded ferries sink killing hundreds of people each time. (And year after year, the authorities allow it to happen – but that’s another story for another post.) Inter-island ferries are one of the main forms of transport for millions of Filipinos across the archipelago, mainly because they are cheaper than air travel but you would have to put a gun to my head to make me go on one of these rickety boats. Well, I may be persuaded to squat on the top deck! There is no way I am going below deck with 300 other people and their farm animals on a vessel that has only 2 exit doors that are either locked or blocked by people. If that boat ever rolls over I plan on being able to make a dive for it, even though I am no Joseph Schooling.

Thankfully, no untoward incident has happened here in Singapore in recent times, as they have in other countries. But we have been warned that it is not a matter of “if” but “when” we will suffer terrorist attacks.

Incidents like the unattended security tags, as well as the countless times I have seen people leave their bags at tables in cafes to go and buy drinks, worry me.

In other countries, these bags would have been quickly removed by security forces. My wife and I were dining in a restaurant in Israel when her handbag, as always, placed on a separate chair near her, was nearly removed by heavily-armed soldiers who suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere. She was advised to make sure that her handbag sits in her lap at all times.

Here in Singapore, despite the threat of terrorism looming in the background, we have become careless, and our biggest enemy is our complacency.

All it takes is one explosion to erode investor and visitor confidence, and our economy will fall into a downward spiral. This is not to mention the loss of innocent lives.

I am not being alarmist, but it behoves us all to take security more seriously.

Situational awareness is our single greatest defense in staying safe.

It enables us to live to fight another day against those who live to do us harm.