Women in Cyber: Training the military's cyber defenders

By Sean Nolan

ME4 Tan Suan Zhi, Officer Commanding of a Security Operations Centre, SAF shares how her team monitors the defence sector's networks 24/7.

Singapore's military is made up of career soldiers, civilians and national servicemen. To protect the defence sector's networks around the clock, these different teams must be able to work together and respond quickly to any cyberthreat.

Military Expert 4 Tan Suan Zhi is the Officer Commanding of a Security Operations Centre that monitors these networks 24/7. She shares her experience coordinating the training of these different groups and how the development of simulations will help. She also discusses how cyber attacks can have an impact on the physical world and what inspired her to become a cyber defender.

Tell us more about your role. How do you protect the digital realm and improve citizens’ lives?

I am Officer Commanding of a Security Operations Centre (SOC) where I supervise multiple teams. We conduct 24/7 monitoring of Defence Sector networks and systems to detect cybersecurity and network anomalies, flag out potential attacks and coordinate cyber defence and IT responses. The Defence Sector comprises MINDEF and the SAF, Defence Science and Technology Agency, DSO National Laboratories, Defence Industry and MINDEF-Related Organisations. The cyber realm is an ever-evolving environment with constant challenges, and it is important to always stay ahead of the curve. We are constantly innovating and transforming ourselves to strengthen our capabilities and expertise so that we are prepared for the unknown, and effective in defending our nation.

What sparked your interest in cybersecurity?

I took up Computer Engineering as I have always had an interest in computers and how they enable amazing things to happen. At the same time, I saw how computers have the capacity to threaten peace and cause mayhem in the physical world. Therefore, I find great joy and satisfaction defending the nation in this challenging and dynamic frontier.

What has been the most impactful project of your career?

I am currently part of a project team developing a training programme to hone the SAF cyber defenders’ skills through simulated cyber-attacks. It is impactful because I see how my efforts directly contribute to training realism for our cyber defenders. In our SOC, we have a range of cyber defenders, from the Cyber Operators serving National Service who may be new to cyber security, Cyber Specialists attending university courses under the Work-Learn Programme, to Cyber Experts like me who have signed on to the profession. I am proud to train these diverse teams to operate at their best, to safeguard the Defence Sector’s systems and networks.

What challenges would you like to take on in the next year?

I would like to venture into penetration testing (pentesting) as I find it intriguing to be actively looking for ways to strengthen an organisation’s cyber security posture. Pentesting shows how real-world attack vectors can impact an organisation’s networks. I would like to develop my instincts in thinking like the intruder, so as to be able to identify weaknesses to be strengthened.

Who or what inspired you this year, and why?

As we continue to live with Covid-19, I think what really continues to inspire me today is the resilience and adaptability demonstrated by the people I work with day to day. Even though the pandemic has taken a toll on our daily lives, we do not stop. We adjust and encourage each other. We find ways to continue our daily operations and training. This gives me the confidence that we can overcome any challenge ahead of us.

What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in cybersecurity?

With things getting more connected and IT reliant, it translates to an increased need for cybersecurity. Your skillset will be one that is going to be relevant for any industry domain, and it is never boring as there are always new things to be learnt! Just take a leap, stay inquisitive and enjoy the journey.

If you could sum up your life motto in one sentence, what would it be?

Dream big, work hard, and don’t give up!