The Hindu editorial weekly round up Jan 13

A Budget not for the environment

On several significant items relating to the environment, allocations have remained stagnant or fallen. In 1991, when the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh ushered in economic reforms that catapulted India into the global economy, I had asked him how he intended to balance rapid economic growth with environmental protection. He said that the experience of the West is that once there is enough money in the economy through growth, it can be put for ecological purposes.

A dismal gap

Leaving aside the fallacy of believing that all ecological damage can be compensated (a rainforest drowned under a dam can’t be recreated, however much money you pour into it), the truth is that governments have not put in the substantial new financial resources raised through rapid growth into environmental protection. Budgetary allocations for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) have consistently fallen as a percentage of total allocations. Second, even when there are increased allocations, such as for cleaning up the Ganga, their usage is ridden with such design flaws, inefficiencies and corruption that the environment is no better off than before. Steadily increasing levels of pollution, biodiversity loss, decline in forest health and destruction of wetlands is testimony to the dismal gap between governmental rhetoric and the environment, regardless of the party in power.

The 2021 Budget is no different. On several significant items relating to the environment, and taking inflation and needs into account, allocations have remained stagnant or fallen. This includes the MoEFCC and crucial institutions such as the Wildlife Institute of India and the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education.One consequence of this is that these institutions are having to raise funds through the private corporate sector, which inevitably compromises their ability to speak the truth when this sector indulges in ecologically damaging activities.

The government could argue that while direct allocations to environment-related institutions and schemes may not have risen significantly, there are substantial allocations to sectors that have a positive environmental impact. For instance, the 2021 Budget has allocated ₹3,500 crore for wind and solar energy, ₹4,000 crore for a ‘Deep Ocean Mission’, and ₹50,011 crore for urban drinking water. All of these have positive ecological potential, but let’s examine them a bit more closely.

India’s major push for renewable energy (RE) has earned it global appreciation. Back home, it is not so rosy. For one, there is no intention to phase out fossil fuels; on the contrary, coal mining and thermal power are being promoted under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat package. And large hydropower is being promoted as RE, though its massive ecological and social impacts are well documented. Finally, even much of the solar and wind energy is coming in the form of massive energy parks that take up huge areas of land, displacing people and wildlife.

There is no indication in the Budget that the RE push would be predominantly decentralised, community-managed, and with full environmental impact assessments (currently not required for RE projects). Nor does the Budget have anything on curtailing wasteful and luxury consumption of energy or other products and services by the rich. Without controlling demand, even a complete shift to RE will be unsustainable; after all, silica has to be mined somewhere.

According to Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, the same issue bedevils the drinking water allocations. In principle any scheme for urban drinking water is positive. But with the continuation of a highly centralised approach to all such schemes, there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach, heavily focused on expensive infrastructure like big reservoirs and pipelines. Instead, a decentralised approach that uses a mix of local rooftop and backyard harvesting, restoration and conservation of urban wetlands, and regenerating groundwater could achieve much better results. And as in energy, there is no focus on incentivising responsible consumption, restraining luxury uses, and redistributing water more equitably, without which no amount of infrastructure will be enough.

The ‘Deep Ocean’ allocation is intriguing. It is being projected as a programme for conservation of biodiversity in the depths of our marine areas. This would be cause for cheer, given the serious neglect of our oceanic areas. But the institutions that are given responsibility under this are the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the ISRO, DRDO, the Department of Atomic Energy, the CSIR, the Department of Biotechnology, and the Indian Navy, none with expertise in or even significant focus on marine conservation. Instead, this could become a project for deep sea mining, for which already explorations are going on.

Potentially, an allocation of ₹18,000 crore for public transport could have significant benefits for people and the environment if it helps to reduce private vehicle density in cities. But if much of this is allocated to the metro rather than to buses and other such earthy alternatives (including last mile connectivity, incentives for walking and cycling), the picture becomes murky. Experience with the metro so far in India’s cities is one of significant environmental impact, as also eventual lack of affordability for the poor.

Some worrying allocations

There is then the very worrying issue of allocations to non-environmental sectors that have a negative impact on the environment. For instance, the Budget proposes 11,000 km more of national highway corridors. In the last few years, massive road and dam construction has fragmented fragile ecosystems and disrupted local community life in the Himalaya, Western Ghats, north-east India and elsewhere. It is not only the road itself but what it brings with it that results in opening up previously intact ecosystems. As Kanchan Chopra of the Institute of Economic Growth says, how much more can we afford to destroy our ‘natural capital’ without it rebounding on us in forms like COVID-19?

The long and the short of India’s Naypyitaw dilemma

The long-lingering power struggle in Naypyitaw(Capital of Myanmar) has finally ended, and the Myanmar junta, led by General Min Aung Hlaing, has won the struggle, dashing decade-long hopes for a truly democratic Myanmar. The future of Myanmar’s democracy is uncertain, but the country, sandwiched between two powerful states competing for power and influence, is certain to be a key piece in the region’s geopolitics. Given its high-stakes in Myanmar, New Delhi would need to be nimble-footed and creative in its responses with well-thought-out strategic choices taking precedence over knee-jerk reactions.

Coup, politics and geopolitics

If Myanmar’s democracy prior to the February 2021 coup was inadequate and intolerant towards minorities, its political future will be a lot more complicated, making the choices of outside powers far more constrained. Strong reactions and the threat of sanctions from the United States and the West in the wake of the recent coup could lead to unique political realignments in Myanmar. As a result, even though the democratic credentials of the former State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, remain deeply diminished today, thanks to her shocking justification of the ill-treatment meted out to the Rohingya, the international community may not have any alternatives when it comes to pursuing the restoration of democracy in the country. Ms. Suu Kyi no doubt made a Faustian bargain to cling on to power, certainly since the bloody crackdown against the minority Muslim community in 2017, and yet the recent events have brought her right back into the centre of the international community’s political calculations in Myanmar.

To rebuild the charisma of the fallen messiah, those batting for Ms. Suu Kyi in the international community may have to condone her government’s past actions against the Rohingya in order to highlight her suitability to be the saviour of democracy in Myanmar once again. She will now be the poster girl for the international campaign to restore democracy in Myanmar and the case against Myanmar’s conduct during her government’s tenure at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will most likely be put on the backburner. In this process, the plight of the hapless Rohingya will take a backseat or be conveniently forgotten. Put differently, increasing global support for Ms. Suu Kyi could potentially spell doom for the persecuted Rohingya.

The China factor

This is a coup that seems to suit no one except the Tatmadaw, the armed forces of Myanmar. In the short run, the coup stands to hurt the interests of China, India and even the rest of the international community, all of whom were able to do business with Myanmar in their own unique ways. However, the international community’s sharp reactions will likely force the Tatmadaw to turn to China. Even though international sanctions are unlikely to have a major impact on the country’s largely inward-looking junta and its Generals with little external interests, it would still expect Beijing to give them political and diplomatic support both within the region and globally.

For China, the coup has complicated its larger regional economic plans in Myanmar, at least for the time being. Beijing has recently been cultivating Ms. Suu Kyi, who was keen on a strong relationship with China given the growing criticism she was facing from the West. But the junta’s jailing her could complicate Beijing’s plans for the country.

On the positive side for Beijing, decisive western sanctions will force the military to get closer to China. For Beijing, given that it does not come with the ‘baggage’ of democratic norms, it may simply be a matter of rejigging its schedule in Myanmar and getting used to the new scheme of things there. To that extent, China will be its biggest beneficiary of the February coup by default. China, therefore, has every reason to go easy on the junta and offer them support in return for increasing the Chinese footprint in the country. On its part, the Tatmadaw, which has traditionally not been an ardent fan of Beijing, would have to change its tune.

New Delhi’s quandary

New Delhi faces the most challenging dilemma on how to respond to the military coup in Myanmar. The dual power centres of the military and the civilian government that existed in Naypyitaw until recently, suited New Delhi quite well as it did not have to worry about hurting the international community’s normative concerns or sacrificing its national interests while engaging them both. More so, until recently, New Delhi’s Myanmar policy was not shaped by a difficult choice between norms and interests: neither was Ms. Suu Kyi’s political experiment without its faults nor were India’s national interests hurt by the Tatmadaw.

The February coup has undone that comfortable space New Delhi’s Myanmar policy occupied for close to a decade. While India’s national interests, under the new circumstances, would clearly lie in dealing with whoever is in power in Myanmar, India would find it difficult to openly support the junta given the strong western and American stance.

On the other hand, it can ill-afford to offend the junta by actively seeking a restoration of democracy there. Being a close neighbour with clear strategic interests in Myanmar, offending the junta would be counter-productive. While Ms. Suu Kyi was getting cozy with Beijing, it was the Myanmar military that had been more circumspect, to Delhi’s delight of course. With Ms. Suu Kyi in detention, Beijing will focus its energies on wooing the Generals.

Although the Ministry of External Affairs statement — “We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. We are monitoring the situation closely” — is definitely in favour of restoring democracy, its past support for the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar is unlikely to return; this is particularly because the nature of the regional geopolitics has changed thanks to the arrival of China on the scene. New Delhi’s new Myanmar policy will therefore be a function of interests rather than norms.

Cooperation, Rohingya issue

While a friendless Myanmar junta getting closer to China is a real worry for New Delhi, there are other concerns too. For one, Myanmar’s military played a helpful role in helping New Delhi contain the north-eastern insurgencies by allowing Indian military to pursue insurgents across the border into Myanmar. Coordinated action and intelligence sharing between the two forces have in the recent past been instrumental in beating back the insurgent groups in the northeast.

Equally important is the issue of providing succour to the Rohingya in the wake of the military coup in Myanmar. Unless the military decides to engage in a peace process to gain some brownie points for itself, the Rohingya question is likely to be pushed aside with the campaign against them continuing relentlessly, perhaps with even more ferocity. The inability of the states in the region to address the legitimate concerns of the Rohingya or increased violations of their rights could potentially lead to a rise of extremism within the community, which in the longer run would not be in India’s interests.

New Delhi then is left with very few clear policy options. And yet, it must continue to maintain relations with the government in power in Myanmar while discreetly pushing for political reconciliation in the country. In the meantime, the focus must be on improving trade, connectivity, and security links between the two sides.

Fine-tuning the State-of-the-app technology

Earlier in the week, WhatsApp had announced an upcoming change to its privacy policy, which led to growing concerns around privacy among many users, and who started switching over to other messaging services such as Signal and Telegram. This unprecedented move by the Facebook-owned company indicates that Indian consumers are becoming more aware and concerned about data protection and privacy — a trend that has become stronger in the recent past.

Platforms and COVID-19

The issue of privacy is crucial for government technology platforms and services as governments typically have a monopoly in providing public services, unlike the private sector. Hence, “porting out” or “digital migration”, as seen in the case of WhatsApp, is not an option. What is needed instead, is an examination of government technological platforms to create better awareness. We saw this in action in the case of Aadhaar (the Government of India’s biometric digital identity platform) and Aarogya Setu (the GoIs contact tracing application during the novel coronavirus pandemic).

Of the 27 mobile apps provide general information on COVID-19 and seven allow tracking of nearby COVID-19 cases. Of all the mobile apps, 15 have a quarantine tracking feature and at least four of these require prior registration with the State Health Department. An assessment of the 35 mobile applications revealed that 17 mobile apps provide information on COVID-19 hospitals while only three apps provide information on isolation beds. Some of the mobile apps also facilitated the home delivery of essential items, such as groceries and medicines, while seven allowed users to apply for mobility passes.

Still a case of digital exclusion

The development of COVID-19 mobile apps was well-received and perceived as a strong proactive initiative, especially by sections of the population that were digitally empowered. However, as of October, 2020, more than 40% of mobile phone subscribers in India lack access to Internet services. This includes those with feature phones that have no Internet and when added to those with no mobile phone at all, India’s digitally excluded could be more than 50%. Hence, while the creation of mobile applications makes information readily available to those with the technology to access it, it does not solve the problem for individuals and communities that remain excluded digitally.

No consistency, privacy issues

The data above implies that the mobile applications developed have not benefited from the standardisation of information and a coordinated development approach. The analysis shows that the various mobile apps on COVID-19 operated by the different State governments lack consistency in terms of the features, functionalities, and frequency of information updates they offer. As information was being updated manually in many of the mobile applications, the data in the mobile application was different from the actual data, leading to multiple sources of truth. Hence, the governments should continue to set up functional helplines, auto-diallers, SMS text messages, and other channels to ensure that the digitally restricted have access to the same information as the digitally empowered — especially during crises such as the pandemic.

Coming back to privacy, most of these State mobile apps also differ significantly on the data privacy they provide, depending on the information or permissions they request from the user. We observed that 31 of the 35 mobile apps request access to location services, nine mobile apps request access to device ID and call information, five mobile apps request access to Bluetooth settings,15 mobile apps request access to the camera, three mobile apps request access to contact information, and three mobile apps even request access to the user accounts on the device.

It seems that these data requests may not meet the two commonly accepted principles of data privacy — necessity (is the data necessary for the mobile application to achieve its goal?) and proportionality (is the collection of data proportionate to the extent to which an individual’s right to privacy is being infringed?). The mobile applications developed could have proactively followed established principles of privacy by design, such as minimal data collection and end-to-end data security. The redundant features of numerous mobile apps of States on COVID-19, duplication of efforts, non-uniformity in data-privacy, and confusion among the end user point toward a larger need for an open, interoperable, application programming interface (API)-based microservices architecture that can integrate (or host) the State digital applications with the central government’s application.

Possible solutions

The adoption of an API-based microservices architecture and federated database structure with an appropriate governance framework could address these issues. It would allow, for instance, Aarogya Setu to integrate with the myriad of State mobile apps to offer both its standard services, that is, contact tracing and real-time information on cases as well as State-specific customised services or sub-applications such as information on hospital beds and grocery shops, among others.

Many countries in Europe have considered moving from an information flow that is centralised to a decentralised information flow for contact-tracing applications. This was largely driven by concerns regarding privacy, as centralised databases can have a higher risk of data leaks and security breaches. Besides, a decentralised information flow, owing to information residing in many individual systems and not in a centralised system, increases the cost while reducing the reward of effecting a successful breach.

Several mobile apps of the State governments employ a centralised approach. Hence, in the future, design considerations of these mobile apps should evaluate the need for a centralised approach and ascertain whether the same goals can be achieved through a decentralised information flow. Given the presence of structured audits that continuously put the spotlight on Government of India-backed technologies, extending the same level of scrutiny to technology platforms developed by the States brings the opportunity of improved public services overall, and the public confidence needed to encourage wider adoption.

On dated Feb 10, there were two articles about the tweets by international celebs on ongoing farmers protest. However, the articles lack clear approach. I suggest you to read both articles essentially for at least understanding.

Taking the long view with China

In late January, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said that while both India and China remained committed to a multipolar world, they should recognise that a “multipolar Asia” was one of its essential constituents. As it moves to becoming the third largest economy in the world, India needs to have a clear-eyed world view and strategy as it makes hard choices. It needs to reject the developing country regional mindset that has hobbled national aims and foreign policy.

The Year End Review of the Ministry of Defence pertinently refers to the “sanctity of our claims in Eastern Ladakh” instead of the term “border” used since 1954, opening space for a settlement. We are now confidently moving out of the predicament that Jawaharlal Nehru placed us in Kashmir, fully integrating it into the Indian Union and consolidating our claim line.

The External Affairs Ministry is also now more forthright. We have a “special and privileged strategic partnership” with Russia, which provides more than three-quarter of India’s military equipment, and a “comprehensive global strategic partnership” with the U.S. despite the United States Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, 2018, wishing that India sees the U.S. as its preferred partner on security issues. India’s relationship with the U.S.-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), where the others are military allies, has rightly been cautious, as U.S. President Joe Biden sees China as a ‘strategic competitor’ rather than a ‘strategic rival’. Realism dictates that India does not need to compromise on its strategic autonomy.

Diplomatic challenge

The foreign policy challenge for India is really two sides of the China conundrum: defining engagement with its neighbour which is consolidating an expanding Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) while remaining involved with the strategic, security and technological concerns of the U.S. located across the vast Pacific Ocean. The U.S. ‘Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China’ cautions that U.S. aircraft carriers, symbols of the country’s military hegemony, may not enjoy unquestioned dominance for much longer. Former President Barack Obama’s military pivot to Asia failed to overawe China in the South China Sea and the costs of former President Donald Trump’s trade tariffs were borne by American consumers and companies.

In the financial sphere, there is the real possibility of the Chinese renminbi becoming a global reserve currency or e-yuan becoming the digital payments currency. China is the world’s largest trading economy. It could soon become the world’s largest economy — the Fortune Global 500 list of the world’s largest companies by revenue for the first time contains more companies based in China, including Hong Kong, than in the U.S. The BRI countries are using the renminbi in financial transactions with China, and can be expected to use it in transactions with each other. Even the European Union, smarting under Mr. Trump’s sanctions, created its own cross-border clearing mechanism for trade. China has stitched together an investment agreement with the EU and with most of Asia. Relative attractiveness will determine when the dollar goes the way of the sterling and the guilder. China, facing technological sanctions from the U.S., may well put in the hard work to make this happen soon.

Policy elements

Some form of the EU’s China policy of seeing the emerging superpower as a partner, competitor, and economic rival depending on the policy area in question is going to be the global norm. The EU’s reaching out to China despite misgivings of the U.S. means the West has given up on containing the rise of China. This broad perspective is also reflected in India’s participation in both the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, led by Beijing and Moscow and designed to resist the spread of Western interests, and in the U.S.-led Quad, with its anti-China stance. Within the United Nations, India’s interests have greater congruence with China’s interests rather than the U.S.’s and the EU’s; sharing the COVID-19 vaccine with other countries distinguishes India, and China, from the rest.

The congruence between India and the U.S. lies in the U.S.’s declared strategic objective of promoting an integrated economic development model in the Indo-Pacific as a credible alternative to the BRI, but with a caveat. China opening new opportunities for countries in the Eurasian landmass means that ASEAN will not easily move out of the BRI infrastructure, digital, finance and trade linkages; Sri Lanka is a recent example. The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has increased its membership to 100 countries. China is now the second-biggest financial contributor to the UN and has published more high-impact research papers than the U.S. did in 23 out of 30 “hot” research fields and enhancing its ‘soft power’ nearly to levels achieved by the U.S. earlier.

Instead of an alternate development model, India should move the Quad towards supplementing the infrastructure push of the BRI in line with other strategic concerns in the region. For example, developing their scientific, technological capacity and digital economy, based on India’s digital stack and financial resources of other Quad members, will resonate with Asia and Africa.

Policy evolution

Another area where India can play a ‘bridging role’ is global governance whose principles, institutions and structures now have to accommodate other views for issue-based understandings. President Xi Jinping’s “community with shared future for mankind”, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “climate justice” and asking how long India will be excluded from the UN Security Council, challenge the frame of the liberal order without providing specific alternatives. With respect to digital data, the defining issue of the 21st century, India has recently expressed that there must be reciprocity in data sharing, and this is the kind of ‘big idea’ for sharing prosperity that will gain traction with other countries.

India’s recent policies are gaining influence at the expense of China and the West, and both know this trend will accelerate. The steps to a $5 trillion economy, shift to indigenous capital military equipment, and a new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy underline impact, capacity and interests. ASEAN remains keen India re-join its trade pact to balance China. It is being recognised that India’s software development prowess could shape a sustainable post-industrial state different to the U.S. and China model. As in the historical past, Asia is big enough for both Asian giants to have complementary roles, share prosperity and be independent of each other and of the West.

There was an interview article about Digital services Tax with regards to USTR investigation report. Read it mandatorily clicking here

Disinformation is a cybersecurity threat

Cybersecurity focuses on protecting and defending computer systems, networks, and our digital lives from disruption. Nefarious actors use attacks to compromise confidentiality, the integrity and the availability of IT systems for their benefit. Disinformation is, similarly, an attack and compromise of our cognitive being. Nation-state actors, ideological believers, violent extremists, and economically motivated enterprises manipulate the information ecosystem to create social discord, increase polarisation, and in some cases, influence the outcome of an election.

There is a lot of similarity in the strategies, tactics and actions between cybersecurity and disinformation attacks. Cyberattacks are aimed at computer infrastructure while disinformation exploits our inherent cognitive biases and logical fallacies. Cybersecurity attacks are executed using malware, viruses, trojans, botnets, and social engineering. Disinformation attacks use manipulated, miss contextualised, misappropriated information, deep fakes, and cheap fakes. Nefarious actors use both attacks in concert to create more havoc.

Cognitive hacking

Cognitive hacking is a threat from disinformation and computational propaganda. This attack exploits psychological vulnerabilities, perpetuates biases, and eventually compromises logical and critical thinking, giving rise to cognitive dissonance. A cognitive hacking attack attempts to change the target audience’s thoughts and actions, galvanise societies and disrupt harmony using disinformation. It exploits cognitive biases and shapes people by perpetuating their prejudices. The goal is to manipulate the way people perceive reality. The storming of the U.S. Capitol by right-wing groups on January 6, 2021, is a prime example of the effects of cognitive hacking.

The implications of cognitive hacking are more devastating than cyberattacks on critical infrastructure. The damage wrought by disinformation is challenging to repair. Revolutions throughout history have used cognitive hacking techniques to a significant effect to overthrow governments and change society. It is a key tactic to achieve major goals with limited means.

Spreading disinformation

Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) is a well-coordinated cybersecurity attack achieved by flooding IT networks with superfluous requests to connect and overload the system to prevent legitimate requests being fulfilled. Similarly, a well-coordinated disinformation campaign fills broadcast and social channels with so much false information and noise, thus taking out the system’s oxygen and drowning the truth.

The advertisement-centric business modes and attention economy incentivise malicious actors to run a sophisticated disinformation campaign and fill the information channels with noise to drown the truth with unprecedented speed and scale. Disinformation is used for social engineering threats on a mass scale. Like phishing attacks, to compromise IT systems for data extraction, disinformation campaigns play on emotions, giving cybercriminals another feasible method for scams.

A report released by Neustar International Security Council (NISC) found 48% of cybersecurity professionals regard disinformation as threats, and of the remainder, 49% say that threat is very significant; 91% of the cybersecurity professionals surveyed called for stricter measures on the Internet. Deep fakes add a whole new level of danger to disinformation campaigns. A few quality and highly targeted disinformation campaigns using deep fakes could widen the divides between peoples in democracies even more and cause unimaginable levels of chaos, with increased levels of violence, damage to property and lives.

Lessons from cybersecurity

Cybersecurity experts have successfully understood and managed the threats posed by viruses, malware, and hackers. IT and Internet systems builders did not think of security till the first set of malicious actors began exploiting security vulnerabilities. The industry learned quickly and invested profoundly in security best practices, making cybersecurity a first design principle. It developed rigorous security frameworks, guidelines, standards, and best practices such as defense-in-depth, threat modelling, secure development lifecycle, and red-team-blue-team (self-attack to find vulnerabilities to fix them) to build cybersecurity resilience. ISACs (Information sharing and analysis centers) and global knowledge base of security bugs, vulnerabilities, threats, adversarial tactics, and techniques are published to improve the security posture of IT systems.

We can develop disinformation defence systems by studying strategy and tactics to understand the identities of malicious actors, their activities, and behaviours from the cybersecurity domain to mitigate disinformation threats. By treating disinformation as a cybersecurity threat we can find effective countermeasures to cognitive hacking.

Defense-in-depth is an information assurance strategy that provides multiple, redundant defensive measures if a security control fails. For example, security firewalls are the first line of defence to fend off threats from external systems. Antivirus systems defend against attacks that got through the firewalls. Regular patching helps eliminate any vulnerabilities from the systems. Smart identity protections and education are essential so that users do not fall victim to social engineering attempts.

We need a defense-in-depth strategy for disinformation. The defense-in-depth model identifies disinformation actors and removes them. Authenticity and provenance solutions can intervene before disinformation gets posted. If the disinformation still gets by, detection solutions using humans and artificial intelligence, internal and external fact-checking can label or remove the content.

Today, the response to disinformation is in silos of each platform with little or no coordination. There is no consistent taxonomy, definitions, policy, norms, and response for disinformation campaigns and actors. This inconsistency enables perpetrators to push the boundaries and move around on platforms to achieve their nefarious goals. A mechanism like ISACs to share the identity, content, context, actions, and behaviours of actors and disinformation across platforms is needed. Information sharing will help disinformation countermeasures to scale better and respond quickly.

Education is key

A critical component of cybersecurity is education. Technology industry, civil society and the government should coordinate to make users aware of cyber threat vectors such as phishing, viruses, and malware. The industry with public-private partnerships must also invest in media literacy efforts to reach out to discerning public. Intervention with media education can make a big difference in understanding context, motivations, and challenging disinformation to reduce damage. The freedom of speech and the freedom of expression are protected rights in most democracies. Balancing the rights of speech with the dangers of disinformation is a challenge for policymakers and regulators. There are laws and regulations for cybersecurity criminals. More than 1,000 entities have signed the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, for stability and security in the information space. Similarly, 52 countries and international bodies have signed the Christchurch Call to Action to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

The disinformation infodemic requires a concerted and coordinated effort by governments, businesses, non-governmental organisations, and other entities to create standards and implement defences. Taking advantage of the frameworks, norms, and tactics that we have already created for cybersecurity is the optimum way to meet this threat. We must protect our society against these threats or face the real possibility of societal breakdown, business interruption, and violence in the streets.

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