Common values, shared threats in India-Australia cyber security ties

Context: The signing of India-Australia ECTA is a concrete example of the bilateral faith in common values, and understanding of threats and goals. A reflection of this is cooperation in cybersecurity.

Significance of cybersecurity as an important area of cooperation

Russia-Ukraine conflict:

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has shown how cyber threat actors, both state and non-state, have become significant players in hybrid or “unrestricted” warfare.

Both countries have used malicious elements in the information as well as operational space.

Also, non-state actors like the hacktivist group Anonymous claimed to have caused significant damage to critical Russian and Belarusian financial and military infrastructure.

China’s actions

China is accused of having amassed numerous cyber weapons and has allegedly carried out sophisticated operations aimed at espionage, theft of intellectual property, and destructive attacks on internet resources of some countries.

Australia and India have been at the receiving end of several such campaigns by the so-called Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups, supported by or assumed to be located in China.

Efforts to promote cooperation in cybersecurity b/w India and Aus

At the June 2020 virtual bilateral summit, Prime Minister of India and his Australian counterpart elevated the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

The new cyber framework includes a five-year plan to work together on the digital economy, cybersecurity and critical and emerging technologies. This will be supported by a $9.7 million fund for bilateral research to improve regional cyber resilience.

An annual Cyber Policy Dialogue, a new Joint Working Group on Cyber Security Cooperation and a joint working group on ICTs have been established.

An annual India-Australia Foreign Ministers Cyber Framework Dialogue will be held.

India will now be included in a core Australian initiative called the International Cyber Engagement Strategy. It began in 2017 to actively conduct capacity-building arrangements in Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, and support similar activities in Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia.

– In 2021 Australia added critical technologies to the initiative, making it important to the bilateral partnership with India and to the Quad.

In February, the foreign ministers of India and Australia recognised cooperation in cyber governance, cyber security, digital economy, cyber and critical technologies as an essential pillar of the relations between the two countries. A joint Centre of Excellence for Critical and Emerging Technology Policy, to be located in Bengaluru, will be set up.

What steps have been taken by both the countries on the domestic front to secure their cyberspace?

Australia

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) in Canberra is the focal point of the country’s cybersecurity information, advice and assistance efforts.

It draws expertise from national law enforcement, intelligence agencies, crime investigation, and national security bodies.

ACSC has a partnership programme with the corporate world to facilitate intelligence-sharing on threats.

AustCyber, another government effort, aims at establishing an internationally competitive domestic cybersecurity industry.

India

India has set up the office of the National Cybersecurity Coordinator, a national Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN), a national Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Agency (NCIIPC)

It has also made appropriate amendments to the Information Technology Act and Rules to enhance its cybersecurity posture. This has upped India’s rank to 10th in the Global Cyber Security Index (GCI) 2020, from 47th just two years earlier.

Way forward

India and Australia share common concerns around 5G rollouts, threats by APT groups, cybercrime, information warfare and threats to a democratic order.

Deepening cooperation can develop avenues for mutual learning and create complementary markets in cyber tools and technologies, boosting bilateral business and strategic commitments on both continents.

Source: This post is based on the article “Common values, shared threats in India-Australia cybersecurity ties” published in The Indian Express on 27th Apr 22.

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