Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Information management during a crisis: Balancing operational security and public expectations

Widespread publicity given to the arrests of the alleged authors of vandalism in the cyber world and real world sends a clear signal of Singapore's zero tolerance to such mischief.

To informed observers, it also underlines the capabilities of Singapore's cyber sleuths in finding their quarry, in some cases less than a week after cyber vandalism was reported.

To those interested in Singapore's information management posture, this episode provides an interesting case study of the manner in which Singaporeans are updated and reassured on a security-related issue (i.e. the security of our computer networks against outside interference).

With the benefit of hindsight, it would appear that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's robust remarks made on Wednesday 6 November that Singapore will "spare no effort" to find the people who are out to cripple Singapore's computer networks had solid ground to stand on.

One assumes PM knew that the Royal Malaysian Police had on Monday 4 November successfully arrested James Raj Arokiasamy in Kuala Lumpur. James, a 35-year-old Singaporean, is said to have carried out various acts of cyber vandalism using the nom de guerre "The Messiah".

PM Lee said:"It is not just anything goes and you are anonymous, therefore there is  no responsibility... You may think you are anonymous. We will make that extra effort to find out who you are."

If Singaporean investigators were still wandering in the cyber wilderness looking for someone to nab, one wonders if PM would have phrased his remarks with such gusto. This is because from an information management perspective, statements that raise expectations unnecessarily are best avoided as the quote may come back to haunt the newsmaker - especially in cases where the quarry eludes identification or capture for eternity.

Past is prologue
We note that this is the second time Singaporean officialdom had used the phrase "spare no effort" to describe a situation that is essentially a fait accompli.

Scroll back to July this year when Singaporeans reeled from the shock of the double murders in Kovan, where one victim was dragged under a car for some distance.

Watch the timeline. The crime was allegedly committed on Wednesday 10 July.

On Friday 12 July, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Teo Chee Hean, convened a joint press conference with the Singapore Police Commissioner, Ng Joo Hee, to update Singaporeans on the case.

DPM Teo said:"This is a very serious case and the Commissioner of Police has been updating me regularly. I have asked the police to spare no effort to make sure that justice is served." Click here for story.

On Saturday 13 July, DPM Teo revealed that the suspect was in custody in Malaysia. From his statement, we could join the dots which suggest the information flow for this tragedy.

DPM Teo said:"We first established his identity on Thursday morning after piecing together several pieces of evidence. He had crossed the Causeway into Johor on Wednesday night.

"We had not earlier released any details for operational reasons as Police assessed that there was no threat to public safety, and revealing his identity was likely to have made his arrest more difficult to achieve." Click here for full statement.

In other words, when DPM Teo convened the 12 July press conference, he probably had the suspect's identify in mind and, one assumes, an inkling PDRM officers would get their man. DPM's confidence that the manhunt would be wound up soon probably justified his "spare no effort" remark. [Note: If police investigators had no leads, a good press secretary/public relations manager would advise against setting expectations too high.]

Public figures the world over have to occasionally grapple with maintaining operational security, while not at the cost of not saying anything and therefore compromising public confidence.

United States President Obama attended a press club dinner in Washington D.C. in 2011 the night US Navy Seals were sent into Pakistan to get Osama Bin Laden. Subsequent analysis of President Obama's composure during the dinner gave no clues that his heart was with US warfighters about to conclude a years-old manhunt half a world away.

Coming back to the cyber and street vandalism cases, we bet PM Lee could justify his confidence before making his "spare no effort" remarks to the media on 6 November. DPM Teo's remarks made in relation to the Kovan case jumped to mind when PM Lee spoke on the sidelines of counter terrorism Exercise Highcrest and we waited in anticipation to see how this would turn out.

Interestingly, PM's remarks may have put his PMO website and that of the Singapore President in the cross hairs of cyber vandals who went in action on Friday 8 November.

It must have been a busy weekend for Singapore's cyber sleuths and SPF computer forensics experts and investigators.

By Tuesday, Singaporeans were informed that The Messiah had been arrested and charged.

This in itself was a news break but there was lot's more: The police had updates on high-profile cases involving the defacement of part of the Istana and PMO websites as well as street vandalism that carried Anonymous taglines and people found with Guy Fawkes masks who had been questioned by police.

The police action has provided assurance that law enforcement agencies have kept up with the times by honing their investigative capabilities in cyberspace and that they can get mischief makers, whether in the real world or cyberworld.

You may also like:
Singapore police arrest man for online bomb threats after Boston Marathon blasts. Click here

Singapore police computer forensics versus online threats. Click here


Anonymous said...

Let;s see what are the government's options when it comes to international hacker rings.

Anonymous said...

Malaysia helps again.

ah seng said...

Malaysia? What Malaysia? Malaysia cannot even take care of their own citizen's safety. Anyway, Our government should be commended for bringing those hackers to justice! Congrats Singapore!

Anonymous said...

Singapore and Malaysian police works closely together. If you're with the force, you'd know we occasionally arrest and exchange information on wanted persons in our respective countries.