Asean needs to seize op­por­tu­ni­ties and im­prove co­op­er­a­tion to ad­dress cy­ber­se­cu­rity

New Straits Times - - NEWS / NATION -

ASEAN is step­ping up ef­forts to ad­dress cy­ber­se­cu­rity is­sues as it is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing im­por­tant. Cy­ber­se­cu­rity ad­vo­cacy in Asean is largely fronted by Sin­ga­pore through ini­tia­tives such as the in­au­gu­ral Asean min­is­te­rial meet­ing on cy­ber­se­cu­rity and Asean Cy­ber­se­cu­rity Ca­pac­ity Pro­gramme, which ul­ti­mately moved Asean to adopt the Asean Cy­ber­se­cu­rity Co­op­er­a­tion Strat­egy last year.

This year, the Asean Lead­ers’ State­ment, Asean Smart Cities Net­work and Asean Lead­ers’ Vi­sion for a Re­silient and In­no­va­tive Asean were re­leased dur­ing the re­cent 32nd Asean Sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore.

The doc­u­ments spelled out Asean’s com­mit­ment to cy­ber­se­cu­rity and urged its mem­bers to adopt the dig­i­tal world de­spite the eco­nomic, so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural dif­fer­ences.

Ul­ti­mately, pol­i­cy­mak­ers have to ex­plore how re­gional ac­tiv­i­ties could in­crease safety in the cy­beren­vi­ron­ment while pro­mot­ing trust and build­ing con­fi­dence rather than util­is­ing cy­berspace to chart strate­gic ma­noeu­vres for in­flu­ence.

Based on the state­ments made, sev­eral ob­ser­va­tions can be drawn.

FIRST, un­even spread of devel­op­ment in cy­ber­se­cu­rity across the re­gion will im­pact the mech­a­nisms of Asean pol­i­cy­mak­ing ef­forts. Ad­mit­tedly, each mem­ber state is pro­gress­ing at a dif­fer­ent pace and pos­ture, based on their ca­pac­ity and pri­or­i­ties.

How­ever, re­cent de­vel­op­ments in Asean can ad­dress its dis­parate cy­ber­scape. For in­stance, the Lead­ers’ State­ment task­ing the min­is­ters with iden­ti­fy­ing vol­un­tary and prac­ti­cal norms, with ref­er­ence to the 2015 UN Group of Gov­ern­men­tal Ex­perts, will al­low op­por­tu­ni­ties for mem­ber states to for­mu­late or re­view their na­tional cy­ber­se­cu­rity strate­gies. This can serve as a plat­form for Asean to set norms and cy­ber­be­haviour in the re­gion, in­stead of al­low­ing norms to be de­ter­mined in a sphere out­side of Asean.

Di­a­logues on cy­ber­se­cu­rity strate­gies could pro­vide a base for mem­ber states to for­mu­late rules of en­gage­ment in the cy­ber­do­main.

Fur­ther­more, the Asean Cy­ber­se­cu­rity Ca­pac­ity Pro­gramme could be ex­panded to aid less-de­vel­oped states within the re­gion, en­sur­ing they are ad­e­quately equipped to tackle chal­lenges in cy­berspace.

Cur­rent programmes in­clude train­ing mod­ules and dis­cus­sions, which can be am­pli­fied to build­ing mi­nor cy­ber-re­lated in­fra­struc­ture. Other de­vel­oped states in Asean should also con­trib­ute to ma­tur­ing cy­berspace in the re­gion.

SEC­OND, an in­clu­sive ap­proach that in­volves rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers in the dis­cus­sions and ex­changes should be en­cour­aged. It is im­per­a­tive for tech­ni­cal skills to be ap­plied in pol­i­cy­mak­ing ef­forts. Seat­ing the stake­hold­ers around the same ta­ble will fa­cil­i­tate a com­mon lex­i­con and pol­icy direc­tions.

The dis­cus­sion and ex­changes should in­clude both gov­ern­men­tal and non-gov­ern­men­tal lev­els to ap­proach com­plex chal­lenges in cy­berspace.

For de­vel­op­ing Asean coun­tries with an emerg­ing cy­ber­land­scape, in­cor­po­rat­ing non­govern­men­tal sec­tor per­spec­tives into gov­ern­ment pol­icy would ex­pe­dite har­mon­i­sa­tion of gov­ern­men­tal and non-gov­ern­men­tal ef­forts.

Take the Asean Re­gional Fo­rum (ARF). It has been iden­ti­fied as a plat­form for dis­cus­sions on cy­ber­norms and co­op­er­a­tion in cy­berspace. The ARF In­ter-ses­sional Meet­ing on ICT Se­cu­rity was es­tab­lished last year, chiefly to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­i­ties of fur­ther co­op­er­a­tion in the con­text of cy­berspace.

Sim­i­larly, dur­ing the Coun­cil for Se­cu­rity Co­op­er­a­tion in the Asia-Pa­cific (CSCAP) 49th Steer­ing Com­mit­tee Meet­ing in Kuala Lumpur in May this year, the mem­ber com­mit­tees con­sid­ered re­vis­it­ing dis­cus­sions on cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

The dis­cus­sions served as a con­tin­u­a­tion of the CSCAP Workshop on Cy­ber­se­cu­rity held in Se­marang, In­done­sia, a year ago which was at­tended by ex­perts of var­i­ous back­grounds.

Pol­icy-rel­e­vant aca­demic re­search that pro­vides in­de­pen­dent anal­y­sis on con­crete ques­tions could fur­ther the dis­cus­sions, while po­ten­tially de­vel­op­ing a frame­work. In ad­di­tion, this could avoid any du­pli­ca­tion of out­come and dis­suade any prac­tice that is con­di­tioned and lim­ited by si­los.

How­ever, the Lead­ers’ State­ment does not ad­dress the role of the pri­vate sec­tor in the cy­ber­do­main. The sec­tor has a bur­geon­ing role in cy­berspace and should be in­cluded in dis­cus­sions.

The ever-evolv­ing na­ture of cy­ber­do­main re­quires con­tin­u­ous di­a­logues with mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers in var­i­ous lev­els to keep the dis­cus­sions stim­u­lat­ing and re­fresh­ing.

FI­NALLY, a ro­bust Asean would en­sure that the re­gions’ per­spec­tives and in­ter­ests on cy­ber­se­cu­rity are well rep­re­sented. The ma­tur­ing re­gional cy­ber­land­scape will en­hance the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of di­a­logues, lead­ing to a dig­i­tally ro­bust Asean.

There­fore, Asean needs to seize op­por­tu­ni­ties and im­prove co­op­er­a­tion, ei­ther within or with­out, in its un­ceas­ing en­deavor to reach cy­ber-sta­bil­ity in the re­gion.

Di­a­logues on cy­ber­se­cu­rity strate­gies could pro­vide a base for mem­ber states to for­mu­late rules of en­gage­ment in the cy­ber do­main.

The writer is re­searcher, For­eign Pol­icy and Se­cu­rity Stud­ies at In­sti­tute of Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Malaysia

The Asean Lead­ers’ State­ment, Asean Smart Cities Net­work and Asean Lead­ers’ Vi­sion for a Re­silient and In­no­va­tive Asean spell out the group­ing’s com­mit­ment to cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

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