National defence is always changing. The sound of war cries used to echo across the battlefield as two armies faced one another. Today, the near-silent hum of a computer can represent a threat to national security.
COL Vicky Wang, Commander of the Cyber Defence Group in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), discusses the military’s role on the digital battlefield. She shares the the importance of continuous training and skills building to defend new technologies like the cloud, 5G and IoT.
Tell us more about your role. How do you protect the digital realm and improve citizens’ lives?
I am Commander of the Cyber Defence Group. My units provide 24/7 cyber defence of the SAF’s networks. Beyond protecting the networks that our planes, tanks, ships rely on, my job plays an increasingly important role in citizens’ lives. With cyberspace, the nature of conflict has become more blurred. Criminal groups and terrorist organisations are able to use the cyber realm to cause damage and destruction beyond geographical boundaries. Threats can be less predictable and more unseen. Singapore is not immune, and in fact, with a highly digitised and networked society, cyber security is even more important to us. MINDEF/SAF’s cyber defence operations are critical, not least to protect our own information and systems but also to support other national agencies to defend Singapore from malicious cyber activities that threaten our security.
What sparked your interest in cybersecurity?
What attracted me to the work of cyber defence is that it is as real as it gets. My best times in the military have always been when I am involved in operations, because that is when the purpose of the job becomes very tangible and salient. Every day, we are reminded of cyber attacks that happen around the world, and how these attacks disrupt lives, cause harm, and possibly even affect a nation’s sovereignty. I like knowing that I am serving at the vanguard of our nation’s defence.
What has been the most impactful project of your career?
The most impactful project I have been involved in was the forming of the C4I Community back in 2012. This was to bring together the communications and intelligence personnel across the SAF, to grow new capabilities. It was a bold move recognising that there is a non-kinetic domain of the battlefield that we needed to win in. It was ahead of its time, and gave rise to a chain of other developments like the setting up of cyber defence units and the cyber vocations. Beyond specific projects, the most impactful work in my career has been when I am in the position to lead and develop people. The direct impact I can make to the lives of people around me is something I find very fulfilling.
What challenges would you like to take on in the next year?
In the next year, we will be deepening the expertise of cyber experts through more rigorous training and exercises, as well as professional certifications. To us, learning is part of operations, because our defence is only as good as our skills. We have been paying a lot of attention to training, but there is scope to enhance the depth and breadth of our training, especially as the cyber terrain we are defending becomes even more complex. With technologies like cloud, 5G and the IoT now ubiquitous, we need to equip ourselves with the skills to defend these networks to stay ahead. On a personal level, I have set sights on getting at least one professional certification a year, so that I can remain technically competent to lead.
Who or what inspired you this year, and why?
One of the inspiring stories I came across this year was the story of a Singaporean mother of 3, whom at age 35, made the switch into cybersecurity, and won $10,000 as her class’ Most Valued Player (MVP) during training. She was a graphic designer and had never done any cybersecurity related work. As a mother of two, I salute her for having the courage to venture into the unknown, and doing well in juggling studies and family. I encourage more women to make the leap like she did.
What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in cybersecurity?
Put your self-doubt away and go for it. Cyber defence is one place where we need the best and brightest, regardless of gender. Here in the military, we are hiring men and women, for both uniformed and civilian roles. It is never too late to learn. If you have the passion for it, you can learn it. We can and will help.
If you could sum up your life motto in one sentence, what would it be?
My life motto is 正心 修身 齐家 治国 平天下. I hung up a calligraphy of the motto in my office. It was a gift from my previous unit. It is a Confucian saying that broadly translates to start with the right mind and intentions, before moving on to bigger things. So for me, it matters a lot that the job I am in is meaningful and serves a larger purpose. I am glad to have found this in cyber defence in the SAF.