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Cooperation in the field of cyber security is currently trending as one of the most important agendas worldwide
The first ever meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) expert group on cyber security cooperation was held in New Delhi on July 14 and 15 . This is a new field of initiative for the Bimstec countries in the region. This in-person government to government meeting was chaired by Lt General Rajesh Pant, India’s National Cyber Security Coordinator, and saw the participation of delegates from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
The meeting was based on the 2019 agreement made during the meeting of the Bimstec National Security Chiefs in Bangkok. India will lead a project to draft a five year plan for combating cybersecurity challenges in member countries. The five year plan will be given the final approval by national security advisors of all seven member countries over the next couple of months and will include cooperation with the emergency response teams, joint cybersecurity exercises, sharing of threat intelligence, and a common understanding of international reforms in the area.
Cooperation in the field of cyber security is currently trending as one of the most important agendas worldwide and as a result, many countries are engaging in bilateral and multilateral groups to address the challenges. Today, when much of the day-to-day work has become digitized, and data is counted as the most precious unit of information, this new initiative to cooperate to protect data as well as computer networks will further enhance the relation between all the seven countries of the Bay of Bengal region.
The growing importance and reliance on critical information infrastructures that are the base of power, telecom, and banking sector networks is being realized more in terms of their vulnerability to attacks and sabotage. As the nature of cyber attacks have evolved over the past few years and nations as well as rogue elements are resorting to attacks on these critical infrastructures, it is creating global concerns.
Further, many nations are pursuing active cyber warfare programs and their targets are being devised based on overt and covert missions, taking the advantage of absence of geographical constraints. In no time, the digital ecosystem has become a cause for worry and so cooperation is desired on many fronts, ranging from intelligence and best practices sharing to training of manpower for mitigation purposes.
India is the lead country in the Bimstec cooperation to provide security solutions in ICT. So it becomes extremely important to provide proper leadership based on its holistic experience of dealing with the digital ecosystem space whereby security is a very important feature.
Almost every sector of the economy depends on robust digital infrastructure that remains vulnerable to various players, from thrill seekers to organized cyber criminal syndicates to rogue nations. India has constantly dealt with cyber probes and attacks on its sensitive networks from adversarial nations and have thwarted them.
India has also dealt comprehensively with fake information content and hate speech that has become a menace in cyberspace today. Further ransomware and phishing attacks have also been handled by the Indian law enforcement agencies and the banking system alike. Also to further enhance the security ecosystem, India is working on improving its existing cyber and privacy laws and also bringing in a stricter regime for trusted equipment in networks as well as best practices.
Much of the steps undertaken by India can be a good yardstick to be shared with the Bimstec nations. Most of the Bimstec nations have existing cyber security measures being used to protect their digital assets. In the face of growing threats and the pace at which these threats are mutating, much closer cooperation will be required.
India’s experience of securing its networks as well as the strength of a large India cyber community taking care of the technical and management aspects of cyber security will be crucial for enhancing the Bimstec model for cyber security. In the future, cyberspace will emerge as the largest problem for most nations. So cooperation will have to be devised on multiple strategies whereby the countries have to exchange cyber related information, collaborate on issues related to cybercrime management, devise strategy and knowledge sharing for protecting critical information infrastructures, cooperate on cyber incident response, and work as a group for harmonizing international developments related to cyber norms.
Some steps have been taken bilaterally, like the agreement between India and Bangladesh to collaborate in the field of cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence cooperation. But they need to be broadened to the Bimstec countries so that more meaningful capacity building and cooperation happens among the member countries.
Although there is a three years delay due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, this new development definitely brought a new hope for the development of Bimstec cooperation. The strength of Bimstec can be understood from the combined GDP figure which is about $3 trillion and will continue to rise.
The current Bay of Bengal is counted as one of the least integrated regions in the world even though it contains nearly 23% of the world’s population. Hence, Bimstec’s main focus will always remain in uniting the Bay of Bengal.
As the Bay of Bengal region is now considered as the next generation theater of strategic powers to play a big role in developing a stronger Asia in the upcoming future, Bimstec can become a major player in this space. This will also align with QUAD, which is also expanding its focus on cyber security cooperation and critical technologies security.
Subimal Bhattacharjee is a defense and cyber security analyst.