From Friday (May 12), teachers will no longer be able to access certain government-wide applications on their work laptops. They will have to use separate terminals to tap into the government intranet, human resources portal and GeBiz, among others.
Each school will be given a few laptops with continued access to these applications, and teachers will have to approach their administrative colleagues for a token to use the laptops. They will also need to fill in a logbook each time they access the laptops for record-keeping purposes.
Teachers told TODAY that the move was a security measure to protect school networks from cyber attacks.
Previously, teachers had access to the nine applications through Schools Standard ICT Operating Environment (SSOE) devices, mainly their laptops.
However, from Friday, some of these functions — ranging from a self-help feature to a portal for changing bank account details — will be deactivated on their devices.
According to an internal memo circulated within a school, the Ministry of Education (MOE) is currently enhancing its human resources portal, and will restore access to it on SSOE devices by next March.
Last June, news emerged that public servants would no longer be able to access the Internet from their work computers by this month. Instead, they would have to rely on Internet-enabled devices — government-issued tablets or common computers — to go online.
A memo sent to teachers then stated: “As cyber security threats continue to evolve, it is important for the government networks to remain secure to prevent deliberate cyber attacks resulting in undesirable leakage of sensitive government data.”
The MOE’s information technology branch was working with schools on “plans for continued access to Internet”, the memo said.
Commenting on the cyber security measure then, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that it was a move that the authorities had been considering “for a while” and had “put off for as long as possible”.
However, it was absolutely necessary to do so, to fight off increasingly intense and sophisticated cyber threats, he added.
The MOE had assured teachers that they would continue to have access to “teaching and learning resources on the Internet” on their work computers, as they used a separate network that would not be connected to the Government Enterprise Network.
Teachers interviewed on Thursday said the segregation of networks would have little impact on them.
A 40-year-old primary school teacher in the north-eastern region said: “It’s slightly inconvenient but it’s not that bad. We’ll place the laptop in a centralised location for easy access. It’s just inconvenient because you have to collect a token and do the necessary.”
Another teacher, attached to a secondary school in the west, said that he had been informed about the network segregation by the principal during a staff meeting in January. “Cyber security is a concern, so it made sense for us,” said the 31-year-old.
He added that a few laptops had been set up in the administrative office last month, and he had used one of them to complete a declaration form.
A 27-year-old teacher in an independent school noted that the new procedures could create “a bit of administrative hassle” for tasks such as completing declarations, which will have to be done by all teachers during a certain timeframe.
Still, the segregation would have little impact on independent schools as only seconded teachers from MOE would use the affected applications, she said.
In recent years, several government ministries have been hit by cyber security incidents. In February, the Ministry of Defence revealed that a cyber security breach had resulted in the personal data of 850 national servicemen and employees being stolen.
In 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs found its IT system breached, and in 2013, the websites of the Istana and Prime Minister’s Office were hacked.