No Internet for public servants' computers next year

All computers used officially by public servants in Singapore will be cut off from the Internet from May next year, in an unprecedented move to tighten security.

A memo is going out to all government agencies, ministries and statutory boards here about the imminent Internet blockade a year from now, The Straits Times has learnt.

There are some 100,000 computers in use by the public service and all of them will be affected.

"The Singapore Government regularly reviews our IT measures to make our network more secure," a spokesman for the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said when contacted.

The move aims to plugpotential leaks from work e-mail and shared documents amid heightened security threats.

Trials started with some employees within IDA - the lead agency for this exercise - as early as April this year.

Surfing can be done only on employees' personal tablets or mobile phones, as these devices do not have access to corporate e-mail. Dedicated computers have also been issued to employees who need to use the Internet for work.

Employees can also forward work e-mail to their private accounts, if they need to. It remains to be seen whether a similar model is used by the wider public service.

It is rare even for banks, telcos and casinos - which are known to have the strictest computer-use policies - to completely cut off Internet access on work terminals.

Banks give only some personnel such as analysts, sales and corporate communications Internet access. File-sharing, Web-hosted e-mail and pornography websites are blocked.

The fear is that staff may unknowingly download malware from dodgy websites, or share sensitive documents online.

Aloysius Cheang, Asia-Pacific executive vice-president of global computing security association Cloud Security Alliance, said the Government's move marks a return to the past - the 1990s - when Internet access was available only on dedicated terminals.

"In the past, it was hard for malware to extract sensitive information from within government networks," said Mr Cheang. "Now, it is hard to control any leak on social media or file-sharing sites."

It will take time to convince users about the new system as the Internet is ingrained in many work processes. One teacher noted that he uses it extensively to develop worksheets and test papers.

Get MyPaper for more stories.