Ananya Moncourt & Sidharth Deb
In Part 1 this three-part series on the second substantive session of the United Nations’ (UN) Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on ICT security (2021-25) we critiqued how the OEWG is incorporating the participation of non-governmental stakeholders within its process. In Part 2 we reflected on States’ (including India’s) participation on discussions under three main themes of the OEWG’s institutional mandate as detailed under para 1 of the December 2020 dated UN General Assembly (GA) Resolution 75/240.
This analysis revealed how lawfare and geopolitical tensions are resulting in substantive divides on matters relating to (a) the definition and identification of threats in cyberspace; (b) the future direction and role of cyber norms in international ICT security; and (c) the applicability of international law in cyberspace. In Part 3 our focus turns to discussions at the second session as it related to inter-State and institutional cooperation. Specifically, we examine confidence building measures, cyber capacity building, and regular institutional dialogue. The post concludes by offering some expectations on the way forward for ongoing international cybersecurity and cybercrime processes.
- Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)
Under CBMs, States focused on cooperation, collaboration, open dialogue, transparency and predictability. These included proposals operationalising a directory of national point of contacts (PoCs) at technical, policy, law enforcement and diplomatic levels. Several States suggested that CBMs would benefit from including non-governmental stakeholders and integrating with bilateral/regional arrangements like ASEAN, OSCE and OAS. States identified UNIDIR’s Cyber Policy Portal as a potential platform to advance transparency on national positions, institutional structures and best practices. South Korea, Malaysia and others proposed using the portal for early warning systems, new cyber norms discussions, vulnerability disclosures, and voluntary information sharing about national military capabilities in cyberspace. Other priority issues included (a) collaboration between CERTs to prevent, detect and respond to cybersecurity incidents; and (b) critical infrastructure protection.
CBMs were another site of substantive lawfare. Russia and its allies stressed on the need for objective dialogue to prevent misperceptions. They urged States to consider all technical aspects of cyber incidents to minimise escalatory risks of “false flag” cyber operations. As we have discussed earlier in Part 2, Iran and Cuba argued against States’ use of coercive measures (e.g. sanctions) which restrict/prevent access to crucial global ICT infrastructures. These States also highlighted challenges with online anonymity, hostile content, and the private sector’s (un)accountability.
India focused on cooperation between PoCs for technical (e.g. via a network of CERTs) and policy matters. They espoused the benefits of integrating CBM efforts with bilateral, regional and multilateral arrangements. Practical cooperation through tabletop exercises, workshops and conferences were proposed. Finally, India stressed on the importance of real-time information sharing on threats and operations targeting critical infrastructures. The latter is a likely reference to challenges States like India face vis-a-vis jurisdiction and MLAT frameworks.
- Capacity Building
Consistent with the first OEWG’s final report, States suggested that capacity building activities should be:
- purpose and results focused,
- politically neutral,
- sovereignty respecting,
- universal, and
- facilitate access to ICTs.
States advocated international capacity building activities correspond with national needs/priorities and benchmarked against internationally determined baselines. The UK recommended Oxford’s Cybersecurity Capacity Maturity Model for national assessments. States recommended harmonising capacity building programmes with bilateral and regional efforts. Iran and Singapore proposed fellowships, workshops, training programmes, education courses, etc as platforms for technical capacity building for State officials/experts. States suggested UNIDIR assume the role of mapping global and regional cyber capacity building efforts—spanning financial support and technical assistance—aimed at compiling a list of best practices. Disaster and climate resilience of ICT infrastructure was a shared concern among Member States.
Even under this theme Russia and their allies addressed unilateral issues like sanctions which limit universal access to crucial ICT environments and systems. Citing the principle of universality, Russia even proposed the OEWG contemplate regulation to control State actions in this regard. Iran built on this and proposed prohibiting States from blocking public access to country-specific apps, IP addresses and domain names.
India recommended capacity building targeting national technical and policy agencies. It proposed funnelling capacity building through regular institutional dialogue to ensure inclusivity, neutrality and trust. India proposed a forum of CERTs, under the UN, to facilitate tabletop exercises, critical infrastructure security, general cybersecurity awareness campaigns, and cyber threat preparedness. India proposed establishing an international counter task force comprising international experts in order to provide technical assistance and infrastructural support for cyber defences and cyber incident response against critical infrastructure threats. Member Sates requested India to elaborate on this proposal.
- Regular Institutional Dialogue
Several States like France, Egypt, Canada, Germany, Korea, Chile, Japan and Colombia identified a previously proposed Programme of Action (PoA) to facilitate coordinated cyber capacity building. France proposed the PoA assist States with the technical expertise for cyber incident response, national cybersecurity policies, and critical infrastructure protection. States also identified the PoA to maintain a trust fund for cyber capacity building projects, and serve as a platform to assist States identify national needs and track implementation of cyber norms. Prior to the third substantive session, co-sponsors are expected to share an updated version of its working paper with the OEWG secretariat. These States have also proposed that the PoA serve as a venue for structured involvement of non-governmental stakeholders.
In order to harmonise the mandates of the OEWG and the PoA, Canada proposed that the OEWG serve as the venue where core normative aspects are finalised, and the PoA works on international implementation. The Sino-Russian bloc and developing countries expressed concerns about the PoA as a forum for regular institutional dialogue. Iran suggested that the OEWG instead operate as an exclusive international forum on cybersecurity. Cuba and Russia maintained that a parallel PoA would undercut the OWEG’s centrality.
While India’s intervention recognises the importance of regular institutional dialogue, it insists that such interactions be intergovernmental. It recommends that States retain primary responsibility for issues in cyberspace relating to national security, public safety and the rule of law.
- Way Forward
The OEWG Chair aims to finalise a zero draft of its first annual progress report, for consultations and written inputs, approximately six weeks prior to the OEWG’s third substantive session in July 2022. It will be interesting to track how lawfare affects the report and other international processes.
In this regard, it is crucial to juxtapose the OEWG against the UN’s ongoing ad-hoc committee in which States are negotiating a draft convention on cybercrime. Too often these conversations can be stuck in silos, however these two processes will collectively shape the broad contours of international regulation of cyberspace. Already, we observe India’s participation in the latter is shaped by its doctrinal underpinnings of the Information Technology Act—and it will be important to track how these discussions evolve.