A Cybersecurity Response for the Indo-Pacific Region

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad held its summit in a virtual format featuring for the first time, four heads of state – US President Biden, India’s Prime Minister Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The four quad nations are the major players in the dynamic and high-growth Indo-Pacific region. While not a formal military alliance like NATO, the Quad framework is often regarded as a potential counterweight to growing Chinese influence. With the current health crisis, there is convergence on financing agreements to support an increase in manufacturing capacity for coronavirus vaccines in India. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted that, “President Biden has made this one of his earliest multilateral engagements speaks to the importance we place on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.”

A recently held discussion by the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum on the Quad’s immediate priorities featuring government and private sector leaders discussed a comprehensive cybersecurity response as a cornerstone of the quadrilateral framework. It is necessary to highlight the digital linkages of the region that contains little more than half of the world’s internet users, burgeoning ecommerce sectors, and hyperlocal service economies. The pandemic has also exposed vulnerabilities in global supply chains, with many countries exploring possibilities of reshoring and incentivizing local firms to manufacture closer to home.

Here are a few takeaways from the discussion focusing on the path to building coordination and cooperation in the highly digitized Indo-Pacific realm that is booming with diverse suppliers:

While discussants pointed out the need for a speedy adoption of 5G technology, it was also noted that 5G has emerged as a critical flashpoint in global geopolitics today. Despite 5G’s superior ability to support advanced technologies and critical infrastructures of countries, suppliers/vendors of 5G can potentially dominate a given country’s data economy.

India’s many technological advances from the last few decades which can be used for the betterment of the people. India and the US share an interest in the Indo-Pacific which is the most challenging regional area in geopolitics at the moment, presenting challenges to democracy.

India’s new cybersecurity strategy has an automatic intelligence sharing arrangement from Mumbai to California. Greater technology and intelligence sharing among Quad nations will allow for developing trusted supply chains, solar and wind energy development, and trusted sources for products and services. India’s concept of ORAN or Open RAN network is a great business opportunity for 5G solutions.

With the high intensity of cybersecurity attacks against nation states and individuals, the US-India technology partnership must be centered around the need to share data and further expand the collaboration among quad nations. The reason cybersecurity prevention is defensive rather than proactive is because it is far cheaper to attack than to defend. Moreover, the liability of a product in cybersecurity lies with the buyer not seller. Therefore, the need of the hour lies in creation of best practices around cybersecurity. The partnership between the two countries should be focused on sharing information in a transparent manner.

Capacity building in the cyber domain both on the products and services side by engaging the private sector and academia should be a key priority.

India is a mobile-first market, and to truly draw upon the benefits of the telecom network, will need to standardize 5G solutions to meet international industry standards, accelerate innovation, technology adoption, and build more robust security frameworks. Ultimately, deeper penetration of 5G and robust supply chain ecosystem can help India deliver quality and timely healthcare solutions to the remotest parts of the country.

Additional Readings:

The Digital Indo-Pacific: Regional Connectivity and Resilience