SG50: Being a Singaporean in a Smart Nation

Thursday, August 6, 2015

SG50 marks Singapore’s 50 years of independence and with it comes 50 years of national achievements. Looking back in time, Singapore transformation has been tremendous, moving from a colonial trading post to the now prominent metropolis state. 

As we move towards a new technology age, Singapore sets vision to become a Smart Nation; using technology to improve the lives and business of Singaporeans. So what does this mean for Singaporeans? Will reliance on technology bring up the nation or will it cripple our nation? Let’s look at Smart Homes as a part of Smart Nation.

Improving Lives with Smart Homes

Housing Development Board (HDB) recently launched the purchase of its first smart homes in Punggol Northshore overlooking the scenic Punggol Waterfront promising the use of smart technologies in May 2015. With smart waste management system, smart fans and smart lighting systems, residents can be assured of a greener environment to live in. These smart homes also come with the infrastructure to install smart systems for the tech-savvy among us. In other words, we’ll start to live and breathe in the Internet of Things (IoT)

While the notion of things being ‘smart’ may sound nice, it comes with significant vulnerabilities, including password security, encryption and authentication issues. 

Smart Home Gone Haywire

In 2009, Raul Rojas, a computer science professor at the Free University of Berlin, built one of Germany’s first smart homes. Everything in the house was connected to the internet, allowing him to control anything from the lights, air conditioning to home appliances such as the oven. The smart home worked well for 2 years until one day, his house froze up completely and his controls no longer worked. Upon investigation, Rojas realized his light fixture had burned out and the bulb was telling the central hub network it needed attention. What caused the network to freeze was the continuous requests sent out by the light bulb. Rojas described this as a classic denial of service attack by a light bulb.

What’s interesting here is that the attack was caused by a light bulb and this could well go beyond to man-in-the-middle attacks hijacking our home networks. The challenges of smart homes according to Rojas is that different manufacturers use different protocols and standards that are not compatible. It’s like Mac vs Windows vs iOS vs Android – but with many more devices, and many more players, thus exposing more gateways to attacks.

In this scenario, it happened in a two-story home in the outskirts of Berlin. But imagine this happening to our smart homes in Singapore where more than 80% of Singapore’s population live in HDB flats; build in close proximity and are highly connected to one another with water, electricity, drainage systems and fibre network all link through neighboring units. 

smart house

Lights going out of control in a smart neighbourhood – Credit Source: Fusion.net

Smart Homes is just one of the initiatives towards developing Singapore into a Smart Nation. In other areas, smartphones will be used as sensors to create a nationwide sensor network, collecting and sharing data for use to improve transport experience. While this means greater accuracy to time bus rides to enable better planning of routes, this also means private information within smartphones is vulnerable to third-party attacks through the sensor network.

By no easy feat, Singapore has successfully become a first world nation that many economies look up to in its reformation in these past 50 years. We’re a highly developed market economy and a world leader in several economic areas including network information. Eyes are on us and as much as we take things for granted, there may be another ‘Anoynomous’ lurking around waiting to attack the Singapore economy. By and large, the Smart Nation initiative is a forward-progressive one that would improve the lives of Singaporeans yet, as Singaporeans, we should put security at the top of our heads and constantly remain vigilant to new threats. Only together, can we protect the new Singapore Smart Nation.

ashlee About Ashlee Ang

 Ashlee is a content writer at Cyber Secure Asia where she writes about introductory topics on cyber security and cyber-related happenings in Singapore & South East Asia.

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