Future of Digital Security

“Bringing disparate voices together to work on hard problems”: Philip Reiner reflects on Singapore International Cyber Week and INTERPOL’s Global Cybercrime Conference

By Philip Reiner on November 8, 2023

Last month, I had the honor and privilege to travel to Singapore to attend both Singapore International Cyber Week (SICW) and INTERPOL’s Global Cybercrime Conference (IGCC), two annual conferences that bring together international leaders from across government, the private sector, and academia to discuss the evolving cyber threat landscape. 

A couple of years ago, when IST released the inaugural Ransomware Task Force report, we made clear our anticipation that as wealthier nations such as the United States raise the “bar of entry” for ransomware actors at home, that those ransomware actors would increasingly target nations with lower defensive postures and less resources to combat their efforts. The Ransomware Task Force’s prediction has, unfortunately, come true; as IST’s Silas Cutler found in the latest RTF Global Ransomware Incident Map, “the data we have access to indicates that ransomware is a growing threat in nearly all emerging economies and throughout the Global South.” It is incumbent upon us to work across borders to address these challenges together, a theme that came up over and over again during my time in Singapore. 

This focus on the shifting tides of ransomware actors across the globe was the crux of my closed-door presentation at the IGCC. There, I briefed on the work done at IST by the team and in particular by Zoë Brammer, our map of the ransomware payment ecosystem. This outlines the actors, stakeholders, processes, and information required for and produced during the ransomware payment process and ultimately could assist with counter-ransomware efforts. 

On the sidelines of the IGCC, I again highlighted this idea when speaking with The Straits Times on the rising threat of cybercrime worldwide. During the interview, I shared that I was not optimistic about the trajectory of ransomware attacks and other cybercrime and noted the heightened need for public-private partnerships and cross-border efforts to move at all necessary speed and take advantage of new tools.

Continuing my series of engagements in Singapore to raise the ransomware threat profile and highlight the success of cross-border efforts to counter it, I was invited to attend Singapore International Cyber Week. Under the leadership of Mr. David Koh, the Commissioner of Cybersecurity and Chief Executive of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA), SICW is a phenomenal undertaking that brings together a wide-ranging mix of global and regional leaders. 

This need for cross-border collaboration also took center stage during the SICW panel discussion I participated in alongside colleagues from INTERPOL, the National Cybersecurity Agency of Thailand, Google, Splunk, and Ensign InfoSecurity. We focused on how public and private entities can better protect themselves from ransomware, highlighting the need for cross-border collaboration and better resourcing to counter the threat. 

What is clear to me is that these threats persist and morph, but that through greater levels of collaborative effort, we can share tools, resources, and collectively have a broader impact in the fight against cybercrime and malicious use of digital technologies. My time in Singapore left me optimistic about our collective ability to tackle them. 

At SICW, I was struck by David Koh and the CSA’s ability to ensure that their convening truly brings together diverse groups–as he said in his opening remarks for SICW, the hope is to bring disparate voices together to work on hard problems, even if we do not all see things the same way. David and his team in the Government of Singapore continue to successfully create an impactful venue that not only affords healthy disagreement, but showcases what is possible when extra effort is made to facilitate collaboration and cross-border cooperation. 

The 21st century, in my view, is truly the Asian Century–one where Asia will be the center of gravity for global economics, culture, and politics. That fact, and the energy and dynamism that comes with it, was prominently on display during my time in Singapore. Early in my career, I lived and worked in East and South Asia. Later on, I served as President Obama’s Senior Director for South Asia, where I worked to shape the future of U.S. policy in the Indo-Pacific and establish the foundation of partnerships for decades to come. I have been fortunate to learn from, watch, and collaborate with leaders across the region. I know firsthand the incredible leadership and growth present throughout Asia; those I met and engaged with while at Singapore International Cyber Week and INTERPOL Global Cybercrime Conference were no exception. I am confident that through bringing together disparate voices, we can tackle tough challenges, including ransomware, cybercrime, and new threats that arise from emerging technologies.