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Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Why in news?

In one week reportedly, there were over 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to COVID-19 monitored by a single email provider, in addition to more than 240 million COVID-19-related daily spam messages.

State Role

  • There is rising concern about concern about the role of states – when Australia mentioned of attacks by a state actor and China has been accused of hacking health-care institutions in the United States working on novel coronavirus treatment.
  • The United Kingdom has warned of hackers backed by the Russian state targeting pharmaceutical companies conducting COVID-19 vaccine research.
  • The ban on specified Chinese Apps, on grounds that they are “engaged in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India” adds another layer of complexity to the contestation in cyberspace.

No global commons

  • Borderless cyberspace, as a part of the “global commons” does not exist.
  • The Internet depends on physical infrastructure that is under national control, and hence is subject to border controls too.
  • Each state applies its laws to national networks, consistent with its international commitments.
  • States are responsible for cybersecurity, enforcement of laws and protection of public good.
  • States are responsible for their actions, as well as for actions taken from within their sovereign territory.
  • Many networks are private, with objectives differing from those of states. Nevertheless, states alone have the rights of oversight.

Gaps in current processes

  • It was in 1998 that Russia inscribed the issue of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in international security on the UN agenda.
  • Since then six Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) with two-year terms and limited membership have functioned — the most on any issue at the United Nations. In addition, an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) began in 2019 with a similar mandate.
  • While terrorism and crime are acknowledged as important, discussion on issues such as Internet governance, development, espionage, and digital privacy has not been focused on, as ostensibly best done in other UN bodies.

More engagement needed

  • Generally, the growth of technology, including cyberspace, is way ahead of the development of associated norms and institutions.
  • Despite the digital divide, the next billion smart phone users will include a significant number from India.
  • As India’s cyber footprint expands, so will space for conflicts and crimes.

India’s footprint

  • India is a very active nodal agency for cybersecurity in the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
  • India has had representatives on five of the six GGEs. India also participates actively at the OEWG.

Way Forward

  • The next phase in an increasingly contested and fragmenting domain requires better arrangements and more intense partnerships, but with more safeguards.
  • Domestically, we need the clarity that adoption of a data protection legislation will bring. Globally, we need to partake in shaping cybernorms.
  • Acceding to the Budapest Convention, or Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe (CETS No.185), which started as a European initiative but has attracted others, is an option that India can examine.
  • India needs to encourage our private sector to get involved more in industry-focused processes.
  • In preparation for the larger role that cyberspace will inevitably play in Indian lives, we need a deeper public understanding of its various dimensions.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023