When the world is facing travel restrictions, digital technology has brought all together to exchange views, hold discussions and come up with solutions

Increased dependence on digital technologies has created both pressures and opportunities for creative policy solutions and regional collaboration to foster a secure, resilient and equitable cyberspace, Secretary East in the Ministry of External affairs, Riva Ganguly Das said at the inaugural session of ASEAN-India Track 1.5 Dialogue on Cyber Issues on Tuesday.

Stating that digital technology is a great enabler, she said when the world is facing travel restrictions and social distancing measures are in place, “digital technology has brought all of us together to exchange views, hold discussions and come up with solutions.”

“The COVID19 pandemic has accelerated the 'digitisation' and ‘cyberisation’ of our engagements – Work from home has become a new norm. Dependence on virtual platforms has risen steeply. There is a greater dependence on digital payment platforms due to reduced cash handling,” the Secretary East said.

“Greater data sharing is happening online. Presence on social media has also increased. Digital technologies are playing a key role in keeping the supply chains open for an accelerated and sustainable economic recovery in the region,” she added.

With our increasing dependence on digital technologies and ever increasing footprint in the cyber space, there is an enhanced need to formulate and implement measures for securing our cyber domain from malicious actors.

A recent assessment report of the COVID-19 cybercrime impact on Asia and the South Pacific region by INTERPOL shows that the major cyber security trends include COVID-19 related frauds, phishing campaigns and online sale of fake medical supplies and PPEs.

INTERPOL warns that the cyber criminals are taking advantage of the economic downturn and people's anxiety and have enhanced their social engineering tactics by using COVID-19 as the basis for their attacks.

“The anxiety has been further fueled by the scourge of "fake news”, "wrong information” and in some cases "targeted disinformation”. This ‘infodemic’ of information has interfered with our abilities to craft proper public health and economic responses to the COVID crisis,” she said.

According to a World Economic Forum report, one of the biggest concerns during the pandemic is the increase in cyber-attacks and data fraud. With the increased online presence due to lockdowns and work from home, radical elements are using social media platforms to disseminate misinformation through hate speech, fake news and doctored videos. They seek to particularly target vulnerable individuals.

As experts on this subject,” you are all well aware about the challenge that policy makers and industry face, in managing policy and social changes, along with the exponential rate at which technology transforms our world,” the Secretary East said.

India is a case in point – India has already become the second largest internet user base in the world. Internet penetration has crossed the mark of 50 percent with about 700 million internet users and the number is poised to reach 1 billion by 2025.

According to the India Cellular and Electronics Association Report, the number of smartphone users is expected to reach 820 million by 2022. This means huge possibilities, our digital economy already generates around US$ 200 billion annually which may reach between US$ 800 billion to USD 1 trillion by 2025.

“However, this also puts daunting challenges for our policy makers. The number of cyber crimes have witnessed a 500 percent increase in the last 5 years,” she said.

With more than half of its 643 million people below the age of 30, ASEAN is passing through a similar digital growth trajectory. According to the World Economic Forum, ASEAN is the fastest growing internet market in the world.

With 125000 new users coming into the internet everyday, the ASEAN digital economy which already generates around USD 150 billion every year, is projected to add an estimated USD 1 trillion to regional GDP in the coming decade. However, as expected, ASEAN is also witnessing increased incidences of cybercrimes.

Large percentage of young populations, huge potential to enhance economic ties, cultural and civilizational affinity and already robust ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership provide adequate reason and incentive for strengthening ASEAN-India Cyber and Digital cooperation. The rapidly increasing threats to safe and secure cyberspace in the COVID and post-COVID era, make ASEAN-India Cyber Cooperation imminent.

There is a huge scope for us to learn from each other and synchronise our efforts: India's efforts to transform itself into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy are exemplified by the flagship Digital India programme.

India is home to the world's largest digital literacy programme – Pradhan Mantri Grameen Digital Shaksharta Abhiyan (Prime Minister's Rural Digital Literacy Campaign) which aims to train 60 million rural adults.

More than 300 government Apps aim to bridge the digital divide in India. To tackle the growing incidences of cyber crime and to ensure a safe, secure, trusted, resilient and vibrant cyberspace, Government of India is formulating the National Cyber Security Strategy 2020 for the next five years. The Strategy will supersede the previous Cyber Security Strategy of 2013 and is likely to be launched by the end of this month.

ASEAN, on its part, is also focusing on enhancing the region's cyber resilience. Important policy measures and frameworks to this end, include e-ASEAN Framework Agreement, ASEAN Economic Community 2025 and Master Plan of ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC 2025). MPAC 2025 envisages to develop an ASEAN Framework on Digital Data Governance. In 2018, under the chairmanship of Singapore, ASEAN adopted the ASEAN Cyber security Cooperation Strategy. ASEAN-Singapore Cyber security Centre of Excellence, launched in October 2019, is doing a commendable job.

Clearly, there is a need to align and synergise these individual efforts. India's Centres of Excellence in Software Development and Training (CESDTs) being established in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam aim to enhance our digital cooperation. India is also funding ‘Child Online Risks Awareness Campaign’ and 'Building Capacity on Digital Public Services Implementation and Cyber Security for Government Agencies' as Quick Impact Projects in Cambodia in 2020. We would be happy to offer similar projects to other ASEAN partners as well.

In this context, the interaction of cyber experts representing governments, think-tanks, academia and industry from ASEAN and India, such as this, aims to help us in crystallizing the ideas for future cooperation into actions.

The cyberspace is border less and, therefore, our efforts to harness this shared space should also be unfettered by national boundaries and be based on regional and global cooperation.

India emphasizes that the core values of liberty, freedom of expression and rule of law, apply to cyberspace as well. “It is in our common interest to maintain peaceful, secure and resilient cyber space. We want countries to find common ground on cyber norms, which encourage international cooperation toward security, while fostering equitable access to cyberspace,” the Secretary East said.