Singapore’s ecommerce industry is booming, and more vital services – from banking to healthcare – are going online. But with the rise of the digital economy, more sensitive information will also go online. This ranges from credit card numbers stored on shopping portals, to medical information, phone numbers, and addresses on administrative sites.

End-users now have higher expectations of security, and expect that that sensitive data will be kept safe. This has resulted in surging demand for cybersecurity professionals in Singapore, along with great prospects for career progression.
Ensign - CJ Low
Low Chee Juee (CJ), Head, Ensign Consulting

Cybersecurity today: a career characterised by high demand, and well-structured opportunities for promotion

At the forefront of facing down hackers and identity thieves are companies like Ensign InfoSecurity. Ensign, backed by Temasek Holdings, is the one of Asia Pacific’s largest pure-play cybersecurity firm.

Lynn Tan , Sales Leader at Ensign, explains that:

“…almost every company in the industry is fighting for the same resources. Until recently, more people pursued careers in systems and network engineering. Cybersecurity was not as common.”

Lynn says it has only been over the past five years, following more publicity and education at the government and enterprise level, that the cybersecurity career path has gained the limelight. As such, demand is so high that many cybersecurity professionals are snatched up by employers in less than a month, if they’re even available.

Low Chee Juee (CJ), Head, Ensign Consulting , says there’s also been a transformative and empowering effect in cybersecurity job scopes. He’s a veteran in the IT industry himself, and has seen significant changes:

“When I started, IT security didn’t exist. We were all running around with textbooks, and we mostly figured things out ourselves. Now there are relevant degree programmes, you can come out of school better equipped for the job.Besides the tons of jobs in the market, there’s a big shift in that things are more structured.”

As an example of this, companies now have structured programmes that help employees already in cybersecurity, or who are looking to get in.

Growing opportunities for career progression

Lynn points out that in Ensign, employees with non-cybersecurity background can take up mentorship and training courses. These can start them as a level one analyst in the Security Operation Centre (SOC), and Ensign will provide the right training to help to move up to level three (the most senior level) in a structured approach.

“We upskill people and keep them with us, so they can climb the ladder to manage higher value tasks,” Lynn says. This is especially helpful for those who graduated with an IT background, but not necessarily in IT security.

The constant upgrading is also essential to those who already have cybersecurity backgrounds. CJ points out that, like the smartphones we buy today, things can be obsolete almost as soon as they hit the market.

“The problem of pace will persist”, he says “the infrastructure of security changes so fast, that there’s a need to be adaptable.” This drives the need for diversity in thinking, and the constant accumulation of new skills – this can range from threat hunting, to incident response, to providing direct consultancy with clients.

The growing number of courses and accreditation programmes do make it easier, but they also attest to diverse skill sets needed. IMDA also provides such similar programmes, under the Skills Framework for Infocomm Technology (ICT).

The increasingly challenging and sophisticated role of cybersecurity experts

Gone are the days when “cybersecurity” just meant keeping track of passwords, or making sure the anti-virus software has not expired.

David Yam, a data scientist and cybersecurity talent at Ensign, likens the role today to a complex game of cat and mouse. Hackers are constantly developing new ways to bypass security, he says, so “we need to constantly be working to catch future threats, not just focusing on the current ones.”

As an example, one of the tools used by hackers is polymorphic code. Since only five per cent of the malware’s code is needed for it to function, another 95 per cent can be a random jumble that keeps changing. This can be used to create viruses and worms that security systems cannot detect, since it appears different each time it is run.

The need to deal with future threats means that David has to keep abreast of current developments. He is currently enrolled for the Ethical Hacker course later this year, and is pursuing a Masters in Technology, Intelligent Systems.

Another aspect of the role is to be able to look at data, and interpret the presence of attacks through abnormalities. One part of David’s job, for example, is looking at a sea of data, and using algorithms to track non-random patterns.

“Forms of malware use beaconing,” he explains, “the malware installed beacons information or keep-alive status back to the botmaster (the person who installed the malware).But when it reports back, it does so in a regular, periodic manner. So we can pick up this periodic pattern, separating it from a sea of data that should be random.”

This can reveal when malicious software has been installed, and is transmitting information that can expose security weaknesses.One of the common misconceptions, David points out, is the belief that machines can do all this if you just plug them in and leave them in a room. “Machines do not learn all by themselves,” he says, “You need an analytics team to understand the data, and how to structure it.

This is one reason why analytics – or data science – is also becoming a valuable skill in the cybersecurity space.

Along with the more exciting elements come conventional needs, such as being able to implement automation (e.g. the use of auto-patching for security upgrades).


Given the large scope, certain mindsets and accreditation are needed to thrive in the industry

CJ mentions that, while Ensign does not undervalue the usual paper credentials, the most important trait is curiosity.

“For cybersecurity, curiosity is important. Never take no for an answer, never stop asking why. Keep pushing yourself to new boundaries.”

Having this attitude is most important, as hard skills (coding, analytics, and other role-dependent skills) can be developed in one of the many structured training programmes now available.

With regard to the hard skills needed however, Lynn shares that many of the higher-level jobs may require one to be a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Possessing this accreditation reflects a certain depth of managerial and technical knowledge, and the ability to design whole cybersecurity programmes.

However, Lynn mentions that “I actually don’t encourage fresh graduates to go for CISSP – it is better to get some experience in project implementation first.” It is hands-on experience, possibly in a range of different roles, that best prepares candidates for CISSP.

There is also demand for GIAC Certified Intrusion Analysts (GCIAs). These are personnel who detect hacker intrusions by reading data like network traffic, and then advise on how to contain the threat.

The optimum time frame before obtaining CISSP is about three years, whereas GCIA certification can be quicker; Lynn shares that in Ensign, a level one analyst (the most junior level) can often try and do it within a year of starting their job.

For those looking to work with clients in a more direct, consultative role, CJ says training in strategic communication is invaluable. However, the bulk of the learning is done on the ground.

Such roles require adaptable individuals who pick up new skills in a short time . Beyond that, “you must be able to translate a technical issue to layman terms,” CJ says. This ability to “translate between two worlds” is needed by cybersecurity professionals who take on a more advisory role.


Parting advice for those still in school, by a cybersecurity professional

For those still in school, David points out practical the most practical courses to becoming a cybersecurity professional:

“Statistics, Engineering and Computer Science are good foundation. An ability to code will also be needed.”

Right out of school, he adds, a good starting point is as a data analyst. From there, you can find an area of interest to deepen your skills in – be it as a data engineer, or data scientist.

“The hard skills and the domain knowledge help you to know the tools,” David says, but beyond that “Be systematic and tenacious. Be curious and open-minded.”


Why Singapore’s Infocomm industry is the next big career opportunity

Even in the early 2000s, the growth of ecommerce hinted at the coming digital revolution. But over the past decade, the growth in the infocomm industry – along with attendant demand for digital professionals – has grown exponentially.

On the private hire vehicle scene, Grab and latent competitor GoJek have emerged as major transport players, within the last five years. In finance sector, the growing demand for online banking, eWallets, and other secured transactions have fuelled a massive demand for cybersecurity experts. In addition, Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative has seen a push for SMEs to go digital, fuelling demand for infocomm professionals at multiple levels – from the smallest start-ups, to companies that are rapidly scaling up.

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To pursue an exciting career at Ensign InfoSecurity, visit Ensign InfoSecurity Careers

This article is written by Ryan Ong and information is accurate as of 31 January 2020