India is carving out a niche template of cooperation and partnership in cyber diplomacy in a highly polarised and contested contemporary cyberspace. At a time when state actors are pursuing and utilising technological advancements for malafide purposes, India has demonstrated to the world that technology can be harnessed for the greater good. Leveraging the power of multilateral cooperation and bilateral engagements, India’s cyber diplomacy is striving for a rules-based order in cyberspace. The G20 presidency has provided another opportunity for New Delhi to advance this collaborative vision to build a resilient cyberspace.
Cyberspace has become ubiquitous and defines the way of life today. Humanity’s dependence on cyberspace has also allowed malicious actors to exploit it through cyberattacks. Since the crippling cyberattacks in Estonia
in 2007 by suspected Russian/Russia-based hackers, cyberspace has become the most prominent arena for pursuing geopolitical rivalries as part of ‘hybrid warfare’. Besides the threat of cyberattacks, surging cybercrimes, cyber-enabled commercial espionage, and ransomware incidents too have caused instability in cyberspace.
Humanity’s dependence on cyberspace has also allowed malicious actors to exploit it through cyberattacks.
As against this rivalry and conflict, attempts to create pathways of cyber cooperation have mostly faltered with the emergence of the competing Eastern bloc led by China and Russia and the Western bloc led by the United States (US) and Europe. India’s cyber and tech diplomacy has developed against this backdrop, focusing on a) skills and capacity building, b) information-sharing, and c) offering tech for national development.
Skills and capacity-building
Expanding cyber threats create an imperative for national law enforcement agencies to strengthen their skills and technical capacities. However, many developing digital economies lack the necessary technical knowledge and monetary resources to do this. Identifying this gap, India has utilised its technical expertise to work with countries such as Vietnam
, and Morocco
to share its cyber knowledge. In addition, it has established
Centres of Excellence (CoE) for cybersecurity in various countries.
New Delhi has also extensively utilised multilateral frameworks like the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise to share best practices like the ‘Cyber Surakshit Bharat Initiative’.
It is also providing cybersecurity training
under the flagship overseas assistance initiative, the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme. Several Indian academic institutions like the National Forensic Sciences University, Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy have provided training to participants of the ITEC programme. New Delhi has also extensively utilised multilateral frameworks like the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise to share best practices like the ‘Cyber Surakshit Bharat Initiative
’. Additionally, it has leveraged the G20 forum to promote the theme of digital skills
through the Digital Economy Working Group (DEWG).
A key aspect of countering cyber threats is providing access to threat information to the concerned government agencies. India’s own domestic experience has underlined the importance of this approach through steps like establishing the Indian Cybercrime Coordination Centre
and the proposed national malware repository
as a reference database to fight ransomware and malware. India is now seeking to replicate this at the international level. In the several global convenings hosted by India in the last year, such as the recent “G20 Conference on Crime and Security in the age of NFTs, AI and Metaverse,” the United Nations Security Council’s special meeting of the Counter-Terrorism Committee
, and the 90th INTERPOL
(International Criminal Police Organization) General Assembly, Indian officials have emphasised the importance of information sharing. India has also extensively participated in several international technical forums like the US led-International Counter Ransomware Initiative
(CRI), the United Nations-backed International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats
of the International Telecom Union, INTERPOL’s Global Complex for Innovation
, and Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams
, a grouping of Computer Emergency Response Teams.
India’s own domestic experience has underlined the importance of this approach through steps like establishing the Indian Cybercrime Coordination Centre and the proposed national malware repository as a reference database to fight ransomware and malware.
New Delhi has also played a pivotal role in evolving cyber cooperation among the G20 member states. In June 2023, India hosted the G20 International Conference on “Cyber Security Exercise for the Banking Sector”
, which deliberated on the threats facing the banking and financial sector and held operational drills. Notably, India has strongly emphasised simulation exercises to identify potential gaps in cybersecurity postures. In February 2023, it organised
similar drills and tabletop exercises in New Delhi for G20 countries. In the CRI, where India leads the network resilience working group, it conducted
a virtual ransomware drill in September 2022 to test the participating nations’ capacity to respond to major ransomware incidents.
Offering tech for national development
India’s experiences as a developing economy have shaped its approach to using technology for national development. Its pioneering lead on Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) with a focus on identity, payment, and data has helped it improve citizens’ access to government services across healthcare, education, subsidies, taxation, banking and financial services. Platforms like Unified Payments Interface
and CoWIN vaccination portal
have become one of the world’s most prominent citizen service delivery platforms.
India has strongly emphasised simulation exercises to identify potential gaps in cybersecurity postures.
Therefore, India’s experience with DPI offers a low-cost, high-impact tech model for several developing countries to leapfrog legacy structures. Through the G20’s DEWG, India has not only shared its DPI experience with other G20 member states but has also explored financing opportunities
for DPI in non-G20 member states. By undertaking this outreach, India is facilitating the developing digital economies’ capacity to innovate, adapt, and implement open-source technologies instead of just being the recipients of technology, which characterised their relationship with the Global North when it disbursed economic assistance to Africa and Asia.
As the bridge between the Global North and South, India has demonstrated that rather than getting entangled in broader geopolitical dynamics, an emphasis on building cyber resilience will yield greater dividends and contribute to cyberspace stability. New Delhi’s cyber and tech diplomacy has also successfully expanded the G20’s remit to focus on cybersecurity as a critical enabler for the digital economy’s functioning. It seeks to extend this global cyber engagement by building trusted tech partnerships through the Initiative in Critical and Emerging Technology
with the US and the Trade and Technology Council
with the European Union.
Sameer Patil is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation.
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