Thursday, March 21, 2019

Passwords and usernames of staff from MOH, MOE and other agencies stolen and put up for sale by hackers, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Passwords and usernames of staff from MOH, MOE and other agencies stolen and put up for sale by hackers, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Passwords and usernames of staff from MOH, MOE and other agencies stolen and put up for sale by hackers

SINGAPORE - E-mail log-in information of employees in several government agencies and educational institutions, as well as details of more than 19,000 compromised payment cards from banks here, have been put up for sale online by hackers.

Russian cyber-security company Group-IB revealed on Tuesday (March 19) that it discovered the user log-ins and passwords from several government organisations on the dark Web over the last two years. The compromised payment card information, which it said was valued at more than $600,000, was found last year.

According to a press release from Group-IB, the organisations involved include the Government Technology Agency (GovTech), Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and the Singapore Police Force, as well as the National University of Singapore.

A Smart Nation and Digital Government Group spokesman told The Straits Times that GovTech was alerted to the presence of e-mail credentials in illegal data banks in January this year.

The spokesman said: "These credentials comprise e-mail addresses and passwords provided by individuals. Around 50,000 of these are government e-mail addresses. They are either outdated or bogus addresses, except for 119 of them which are still being used.

"As an immediate precautionary measure, all officers with affected credentials have changed their passwords. There are no other information fields exposed apart from the e-mail address and password."

He added that the credentials were leaked not from government systems, but from the use of these government e-mail addresses for the officers' personal and non-official purposes.

"Officers have been reminded not to use government e-mail addresses for such purposes, as part of basic cyber hygiene," he said.

Mr Dmitry Volkov, the chief technology officer and head of threat intelligence at Group-IB, said the compromised credentials could be used for cyber crime and spying.

"Users' accounts from government resources are either sold in underground forums or used in targeted attacks on government agencies for the purpose of espionage or sabotage," he said.

"Even one compromised account, unless detected at the right time, can lead to the disruption of internal operations or leak of government secrets."

Group-IB also said that Singapore is "drawing more and more attention" from financially motivated hackers every year. According to its data, compared to 2017, the number of leaked cards went up last year by 56 per cent.

The discovery comes after a string of breaches and cyber attacks in the public and private sectors.

Last June, the personal data of 1.5 million patients of healthcare cluster SingHealth, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was stolen in the country's worst cyber attack.

Other breaches included the illegal access of 72 HealthHub accounts last October, the online leak of personal information of 14,200 patients from the HIV Registry and improper handling of data belonging to more than 800,000 blood donors by a vendor last week.

Earlier this month, The Straits Times reported that insurance company AIA was checking all its systems after one of its Web portals, which contained the personal information of more than 200 people, was found to be publicly accessible.



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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Societies must acknowledge rising Islamophobia, tackle right-wing hate ideology: Shanmugam, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Societies must acknowledge rising Islamophobia, tackle right-wing hate ideology: Shanmugam, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Societies must acknowledge rising Islamophobia, tackle right-wing hate ideology: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE - Societies need to acknowledge that Islamophobia is increasing around the world and come down hard on these people, said the Minister for Law and Home Affairs on Saturday (March 16).

Mr K. Shanmugam told the media a day after the terrorist attacks in New Zealand mosques that left 49 people dead: "When you see the face of the person who was alleged to have committed the crime, I think you see the face of evil."

He added that while people with right-wing hate ideology have carried out terror attacks for many years, the issue has not received "as much attention" as those said to be carried out on behalf of Islam.

Beyond having leaders speaking publicly to condemn the attacks and stepping up security, societies have to "face squarely the reality that Islamophobia is rising", said Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking on the sidelines of a grassroots event.

"Just as we come down hard on terrorists who say that they attack on behalf of Islam, you got to come down hard equally on Islamophobic people and also you got to deal with the ideology, it's not just dealing with specific incidents," he added.

"For that you got to start by acknowledging that it is there. When you do not acknowledge it, the problem just grows."

Mr Shanmugam said societies will need to figure out the boundaries between free speech and hate speech - a line which, in many places, is often blurred.

"We try and draw a line and a fairly strict line, whether it is in the form of entertainment or it is preaching ... Anything that interferes or attacks other peoples' religions, race," he noted.

If people are allowed to attack other religions or races, over time this would spread as hate speech, which results in a "permissive environment for violence", Mr Shanmugam added.

"It's not an immediate line, but it does create that environment, a more permissive environment. So we have to face up to these questions."

When asked if security at religious sites will be stepped up in light of the NZ attacks, Mr Shanmugam said while Singapore remains on high alert, it has strict laws on gun control as well as hate speech.

He also asked Singaporeans who have come across the video of the NZ shooting to not circulate it and delete the footage: "I would urge people who have come across this to really not spread it ... because we are giving the gunman and the right-wing ideologists exactly what they want by spreading it.

"Please delete it. And don't spread it."

The Singapore Police Force later reiterated Mr Shanmugam's request in a statement on Facebook. 

"The Police urge members of the public who have received such videos to delete them and not to circulate further," said the police.



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Friday, March 15, 2019

Christchurch attacks: What we know so far | The Straits Times

Christchurch attacks: What we know so far | The Straits Times

Christchurch attacks: What we know so far

When shooters fired on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, dozens died or were wounded. Here's what we know so far about the March 15 attacks.

SouthHagleyParkNorthHagleyParkLinwoodParkCHRISTCHURCHLinwoodMosqueAl NoorMosqueDeansAve.Moorhouse Ave.Bealey Ave.1 kmChristchurchWellingtonNEW ZEALAND

More than 40 people were killed and at least 20 others were injured, including two Malaysians, in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15. These happened around 1.40pm.

There was also a reported third active shooting outside a hospital there. In addition, a bomb was reportedly found inside a car about 3km from one of the mosques.

New Zealand's second-largest city went into lockdown in response to what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described as a "terrorist attack" that was "well-planned".

Three men and one woman were in custody, the police said. One person was later released.

Al Noor Mosque attack

A man, who would not give his name, said he was praying in Al Noor Mosque when he heard the shooting start, reported Stuff news website.

He managed to escape, but saw his wife lying dead on the footpath outside. "My wife is dead," he said, wailing. His head was supported by other Muslim men who prayed for him.

A view of the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue in Christchurch, New Zealand, taken in 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

Another man who was in Al Noor Mosque told NZ Herald the building was absolutely full of people who had gathered for noon prayers. He believed many have been killed.

There were bodies all over me.

Another man was cited by Stuff as saying he saw children being shot. Dozens of people were shot by a man wearing a "military uniform", who emptied at least two magazines. "There were bodies all over me," the man said.

I saw dead people everywhere.

Mr Len Peneha was reported by The Guardian as saying he saw a man dressed in black enter Al Noor Mosque, and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

He said he also saw the gunman fleeing before emergency services arrived. Mr Peneha said he went into the mosque to try and help, adding: "I saw dead people everywhere."

More than 40

The number of people who died from the Al Noor Mosque shooting, according to The New York Times.

300

The estimated number of people inside the mosque.

A still image taken from a clip that was circulated on social media. The video was apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded. It showed him driving in Christchurch on March 15. PHOTO: REUTERS

The gunman in the Al Noor Mosque shooting livestreamed the incident for 17 minutes, New Zealand media reported.

The shooter identified himself as "Brenton Tarrant" - a white, 28-year-old Australia-born man, NZ Herald reported.

The livestream began as the gunman drove to Al Noor Mosque in Deans Avenue, parking his car in a nearby driveway. According to NZ Herald, the beige station wagon contained a cache of weapons and ammunition in the front passenger seat and boot, along with petrol canisters.

1. According to his live video,the gunman parked in the alley next to Al Noor Mosque.2. He opened fire.3. The video shows him leaving six minutes after the first shot.Deans Avenue

He then armed himself and walked into the mosque. Once inside, he began shooting indiscriminately.

He then exited the mosque through the front door - after just under three minutes inside - and headed into the street, firing random shots as cars drove past.

He returned to the beige Subaru station wagon parked in a nearby driveway to get more ammunition from the boot.

A still image taken from the video. It showed the gunman entering a mosque in Christchurch. PHOTO: REUTERS

Less than 3 minutes

In the livestream, the gunman exited the mosque after just under three minutes inside. He got more ammunition from a car, then re-entered the mosque.

He fired more shots on the street at no apparent target, and said: "Looks like we won't get the bird today, boys."

He then re-entered the mosque to check for survivors. The video ended as the gunman drove away from the scene at speed.

In a lengthy manifesto published online, the supposed shooter outlined who he was and why he carried out the massacre at the Christchurch mosque, NZ Herald reported.

Armed Offenders Squad officers pushing back a member of the public following a shooting at the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch on March 15. PHOTO: REUTERS
An injured person being loaded into an ambulance following a shooting at Al Noor Mosque on March 15. PHOTO: REUTERS

The New Zealand police warned against sharing footage relating to the deadly shooting, after the video appeared online showing a man filming himself firing at worshippers inside a mosque.

The clip appeared to have been filmed from a helmet camera worn by the gunman.

Other attacks

A view of the mosque in Linwood. PHOTO: MASJID LINWOOD/FACEBOOK

According to The Guardian, 10 people were killed at Linwood Mosque.

Linwood Dental Centre practice manager Janine Richmond said she heard about 20 gunshots coming from Linwood Mosque at about 1.45pm. She said Armed Offenders Squad officers with dogs came in and searched the clinic - which is about 50m from the mosque - shortly after.

"(Armed Offenders Squad officers) have told us to stay here because it's not safe," she told Stuff.co. "We can't leave and we've been told to stay in a room and stay away from the windows."

Christchurch Hospital went into lockdown after there was a reported shooting outside the facility. PHOTO: GOOGLE MAPS

There was a reported shooting outside Christchurch Hospital.

It went into lockdown. The Canterbury District Health Board said in a Facebook post that no employees or patients should enter or leave the building.

Every door at the hospital had been locked and guarded by the police, with only clear emergency cases being allowed in.

The Guardian also reported the police as saying there was a bomb on Strickland Street, about 3km from Al Noor Mosque. It said the bomb was located inside a beige Subaru that crashed on the street.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said a number of improvised explosive devices attached to cars have been made safe now. A media report said that two explosive devices attached to suspect vehicles had been found and disarmed.

Narrow escape

Bangladesh's cricket team emerged unscathed from one of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, an official told AFP.

Bangladesh Cricket Board spokesman Jalal Yunus said most of the team members were taken in a bus to the mosque and were about to go inside when the incident happened.

"They are safe. But they are mentally shocked. We have asked the team to stay confined in the hotel," he told AFP.

The team members were due to play a Test match in Christchurch on March 16.

Player Tamim Iqbal tweeted that it was a "frightening experience" and that there were "active shooters".

'One of New Zealand's darkest days'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressing the media in Wellington, New Zealand, on 15 March. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Ms Ardern said at a televised media conference that the mass shooting "can only be described as a terrorist attack".

"From what we know, it does appear to have been well-planned."

She had earlier described March 15 as "one of New Zealand's darkest days". It was said to be the worst mass shooting in New Zealand's history.

Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that one of the people taken into custody was Australian. Mr Morrison said he has been in contact with Ms Ardern, and that Australian agencies are working with the New Zealand authorities.

He said: "As family members with our New Zealand cousins today, we grieve, we are shocked, we are appalled, we are outraged, and we stand here and condemn absolutely the attack that occurred today by an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist."

Two Malaysians were among those wounded during the mosque shootings, Malaysia's Foreign Ministry said on March 15. It added that Malaysia condemns in the strongest terms "this senseless act of terror on innocent civilians".

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post that "Singapore stands in solidarity with New Zealand in this difficult period".

Singapore's Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin commented in a Facebook post that the shootings were "savage and barbaric".

Back in New Zealand, Muslim Association of Marlborough chairman Zayd Blissett said he found out about the shooting from a text sent by the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand at 2.04pm, saying "50 shot" during Friday prayers in Christchurch.

"I'm just heartbroken. In fact, I'm sitting here crying," he said. "This is New Zealand. This can't happen here."

Source:  Reuters, The Star and The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network, Google Earth.

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The illegal dumping of toxic chemicals into a river in Pasir Gudang, Johor


SINGAPORE - The illegal dumping of toxic chemicals into a river in Pasir Gudang, Johor, has sickened more than 2,700 people, including hundreds of students.

Malaysia's Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said on Wednesday (March 13) that a number of chemicals have been ascertained from the samples taken.

They include benzene, acrolein, acrylonitrile, hydrogen chloride, methane, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene and d-limonene.

What are these chemicals, where are they usually found, and what is their possible impact on humans?

1. BENZENE

What: Benzene is a chemical that has a sweet, aromatic, gasoline-like smell. Most people can begin to smell benzene in the air at 1.5 to 4.7 parts per million, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Where: Benzene can be found in crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke. It is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes and pesticides.

Impact: The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified benzene as carcinogenic to humans. Human exposure to benzene has been associated with a range of acute and long-term adverse health effects and diseases, including narcosis - in which a person blacks out - and aplastic anaemia - which results in a drop in blood cell count - according to the World Health Organization.

Some symptoms of prolonged benzene exposure include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, tremors and loss of consciousness.

2. ACROLEIN

What: Acrolein is a clear, colourless, or yellow liquid with a pungent, suffocating odour.

Where: The chemical has been used to control plant and algae growth in irrigation canals. It has also been used to manufacture other chemicals, as a warning agent in gases, as a test gas for gas masks, in military poison gases, for making colloidal metals, in leather tanning, and as a fixative in histology.

Impact: Inhaled acrolein is highly toxic and is irritating to the upper respiratory tract even at low concentrations, according to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Acrolein is severely irritating to the skin and eyes.

3. ACRYLONITRILE

What: Acrylonitrile is a colourless, liquid, man-made chemical with a sharp, onion- or garlic-like odour.

Where: Acrylonitrile is used mostly to make plastics, acrylic fibres, and synthetic rubber. As acrylonitrile evaporates quickly, it is most likely to be found in the air around chemical plants where it is made, according to the ATSDR.

Impact: Exposure to large amounts of the chemical affects mainly the nervous system. Symptoms can include headaches and nausea, while exposure to higher concentrations may temporarily damage red blood cells and the liver.

Long-term exposure to acrylonitrile may increase the chances of getting cancer, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

4. HYDROGEN CHLORIDE

What: Hydrogen chloride has a strong irritating smell. The chemical's colour ranges from colourless to slightly yellow. Hydrogen chloride vapour is corrosive.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Streaming into Normal and Express in secondary schools to stop in 2024; to be replaced by full subject-based banding, Education News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Streaming into Normal and Express in secondary schools to stop in 2024; to be replaced by full subject-based banding, Education News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Streaming into Normal and Express in secondary schools to stop in 2024; to be replaced by full subject-based banding

SINGAPORE - Forty years after streaming was introduced in secondary schools, the Education Ministry has taken the momentous step to do away with the Normal (Technical), Normal (Academic) and Express streams.

Instead, there will be full subject-based banding, in which students will take up subjects at higher or lower levels, based on their strengths.

The ministry will start full subject-based banding in about 25 schools next year and progressively apply it to all secondary schools, with streaming to end in 2024.

Instead, all Sec 1 students in the 2024 batch -  the Primary Two cohort  this year - will take subjects based on their ability and strengths. Subjects such as mathematics will be taught at three levels - G1, G2 and G3, with G standing for "General". G1 will roughly correspond to today's N(T) standard, G2 to N(A) standard, and G3 to Express standard.

When they reach Sec 4 in 2027, the students will take a common national examination and graduate with a common secondary school certificate, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament on Tuesday (March 5) during the debate on the ministry's budget.

"It will list the subjects completed and the standard band of each subject," he added. "Singapore and Cambridge will co-brand this new certificate, as both are strong international brand names in education, which will enhance the recognition and value of the certificate."

To the audible approval from the House, he said: "With full subject-based banding implemented, form classes reorganised across the board, and a combined secondary education certificate, we would have effectively merged Express, N(A) and N(T) streams into a single course. The Express, N(A) and N(T) streams, and their labels, will therefore be phased out.

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"So from three education streams, we will now have 'One secondary education, many subject bands'. We will no longer have fishes swimming down three separate streams, but one broad river, with each fish negotiating its own journey."

With students taking up subjects of varying combinations, the ministry hopes that schools will use the opportunity to group students in different ways and not according to their abilities. This will bring about more social mixing and encourage students to help one another. He cited Boon Lay Secondary, which organises its form classes according to Co-Curricular Activities rather than academic streams, and Edgefield Secondary, where classes include students from all three streams.

Explaining why the ministry was doing away with the Normal and  Express streams, Mr Ong said streaming was introduced 40 years ago during an "efficiency-driven phase" to cut down on student dropout rates. Attrition rates have come down from about a third of every cohort in the 1970s, to less than 1 per cent now.

Many parents and students have also begun to see the benefit of students learning at a pace and rigour suited to their abilities.

But the ministry recognises that there are downsides to streaming, said Minister Ong.

He said there is always "some margin of error", especially if streaming is done at a young age.

Also, streaming assumes that students need a certain pace of learning in all their subjects, whereas many students have uneven strengths in different subjects. 

"More importantly, entering a stream that is considered 'lower' can carry a certain stigma or be self-limiting. Students can develop a mindset where they tell themselves, 'I am only a Normal stream student, so this is as good as I can be'," he said, noting that over the years, several MPs have brought up these pernicious effects of streaming.

Mr Ong said that with the change to full subject-based banding, the ministry wants to help students to continue "benefitting from a differentiated curriculum, while minimising the unintended consequences of labelling and the stigmatisation associated with streaming".

He said the emphasis of the education system has evolved over the years, from an efficiency-driven system to one that develops the varied abilities of students.

In the digital era, the focus has to change, as knowledge has become very accessible and skills carry a premium and "inoculate us from being replaced by computers and robots".

But skills take a lifetime to acquire and hone, and one must be driven by passion to do so. Hence the thrust now to "learn for life".  The "one secondary school education, many subject bands" is another step in this direction.

He said the move to do away with streams is not the culling of a sacred cow, but rather an incremental move.

The Education Ministry started a form of subject-based banding more than a decade ago, allowing students in the N(A) and N(T) streams to take up to two subjects at a higher level starting from Sec 3, if they had done well in those subjects in their first two years.

Over the years, subject-based banding was gradually extended.

It was piloted in 12 schools in 2014, and Mr Ong said the results have been encouraging. About half of the N(A) students in the pilot schools took up subjects at the Express level - a quarter took one subject, another 11 per cent took two subjects, and more than 10 per cent took three subjects, or were laterally transferred to the Express stream, he explained.

"If we had included mother tongue, the numbers would be even higher. The numbers for N(T) students taking N(A) level subjects were quite similar."

And the two batches of students who took higher-level subjects have performed comparably to their Express counterparts, Mr Ong revealed. 

"To illustrate, for the national examinations in 2018, 25 per cent of Sec 4 N(A) students who took O-level English got A1 or A2, compared to 24 per cent for Express students. For O-level maths, 26 per cent of N(A) students got A1 or A2, compared to 50 per cent for Express students. For O-level combined science, it was 33 per cent for N(A), compared to 34 per cent for Express students.

"The Normal stream students have held their own."

Given the positive outcomes, it is time to expand subject-based banding to all secondary schools.

Mr Ong said: "We have been grappling with this trade-off - between customisation and stigmatisation. This has to be our attitude when it comes to education - never complacent, always anticipating the future, figuring out what needs to change next, planning it out, and implementing at a pace that takes into account the trade-offs, complexities, and the immense impact any changes will have on students.

"We should never stay frozen for a long period, only to make sudden big changes years later. So any change analogous to the slaughtering of any animal is most likely a bad idea."

He ended his speech by saying that in making this change, the ministry is developing a child with the knowledge that the pace of his or her learning changes over time, all the way to adulthood, and acting on the conviction that students benefit most when there is diversity across schools and within schools.

"Above all, we are guided by our belief that no child's fate is fixed, and in an environment that encourages growth and development, and promotes holistic education, they will fulfil their potential to be sons and daughters of Singapore whom we are proud of."



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