G20 : Economic Cooperation ahead

Protecting Critical Information Infrastructure: The Role of the G20


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Critical information infrastructure

Mains level: Critical information infrastructure, need for global norms of protection

Central Idea

  • Technology has become pervasive, impacting various aspects of society, including national and foreign policies, governance, service delivery, and warfare. However, this dependence on technology also exposes critical systems to potential disruptions. Safeguarding critical systems is a nation’s responsibility to ensure the continuity of vital services.

What is critical information infrastructure?

  • Critical information infrastructure refers to the interconnected systems and assets that are essential for the functioning of a nation’s society, economy, and government. It encompasses the hardware, software, networks, data, and communication channels that support vital services and processes.
  • It includes sectors such as transportation, energy, banking and finance, healthcare, telecommunications, water and sanitation, emergency services, and government networks.
  • Protecting critical information infrastructure is crucial to ensure the continuity of services, safeguard sensitive data, and defend against cyber threats, including cyberattacks, data breaches, and other malicious activities.

Differences in defining critical information infrastructure

  • Criteria for Criticality: Different countries employ distinct criteria to determine the criticality of information infrastructure.
  • For example: One country may consider infrastructure critical if its failure impacts national security, economy, public health, or safety. Another country may define critical infrastructure based on the potential for sustained supply shortages, disruptions to public safety and security, or other significant consequences.
  • Scope of Infrastructure: There may be variations in the scope of infrastructure considered critical. While certain sectors like energy, transportation, banking, and telecommunications are commonly recognized as critical across many countries, there might be differences in identifying sub-sectors or specific enterprises within those sectors. Some countries may include additional sectors like water and sanitation, emergency services, healthcare, or government networks in their definition of critical information infrastructure.
  • Overlapping Criteria: In some cases, the criteria used to identify critical infrastructure may overlap with one another. For instance, ensuring the availability, delivery, or integrity of essential services can encompass vital societal functions, information flow, and communication channels. Harmonizing these overlapping criteria can help establish specific and comprehensive criteria that cater to the needs of all countries.
  • National Context: National priorities and contextual factors also influence the definition of critical information infrastructure. Countries may consider their unique geopolitical situation, existing threats, vulnerabilities, and the potential impact on their economy and citizens. This context-specific approach allows each country to address its specific challenges and ensure the protection of infrastructure crucial to its national well-being.

Role of the G20 in developing global norms for protecting critical infrastructure

  • Platform for Discussion: The G20 provides a platform for member countries to engage in discussions and exchanges on pressing global issues, including cybersecurity and the protection of critical infrastructure. It brings together policymakers, experts, and stakeholders from various sectors to share insights, experiences, and best practices.
  • Building Consensus: The G20 aims to build consensus among member countries on critical issues related to protecting infrastructure. Through dialogue, negotiations, and diplomatic efforts, the G20 seeks to develop common understandings and principles that can guide international cooperation in safeguarding critical information infrastructure.
  • Initiating Discussions: The G20 has the capacity to initiate discussions on specific topics and themes relevant to critical infrastructure protection. By placing the issue on the G20 agenda, it draws attention to the importance of addressing cybersecurity risks and establishing global norms in this area.
  • Leveraging Economic Influence: The G20 represents around 85 percent of global GDP, over 75 percent of global trade, and a significant portion of the world population. This economic influence provides the G20 with leverage to drive discussions and encourage member countries to prioritize the protection of critical infrastructure.
  • Collaboration with International Organizations: The G20 collaborates with international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This collaboration helps leverage the expertise, resources, and frameworks of these organizations to inform discussions and develop comprehensive approaches to protecting critical infrastructure.
  • Promoting International Stability: The G20 recognizes that protecting critical infrastructure is crucial for international stability and economic cooperation. By advocating for global norms and responsible state behavior, the G20 aims to enhance cybersecurity, prevent disruptions, and promote a secure digital environment for economic activities.
  • Influencing Policy Development: The G20’s discussions and recommendations on critical infrastructure protection can influence policy development at the national and international levels. Member countries may align their policies and frameworks with the norms and principles identified through G20 deliberations, thereby fostering harmonization and cooperation.

Recommendations to the G20

  • Common Definition and Critical Sectors: The G20 should adopt a phased approach, beginning with establishing a common definition of critical infrastructure. Subsequently, a broader consensus on critical sectors should be built, followed by the formulation of common principles for regulating critical infrastructure. This process will facilitate a global consensus, ensure cooperation among member countries, and guide nations that are in the early stages of regulating critical infrastructure.
  • Common Principles: While formulating common principles for regulating critical infrastructure, the G20 should reaffirm and adopt existing norms as the foundation for future discussions. This includes commitments made in G20 documents like the Hamburg Action Plan and the Buenos Aires Declaration. Furthermore, the G20 can draw from the initiatives of other multilateral groupings, such as the G7, G8, and OECD, that have focused on protecting critical infrastructure.
  • Respecting International Law: The G20 should commit to protecting critical infrastructure and refrain from intentionally damaging it. Member countries should conduct themselves in accordance with international law and uphold responsible state behavior in cyberspace.
  • International Cooperation: G20 countries must enhance cooperation to prevent, mitigate, trace, and investigate cyber incidents targeting critical infrastructure. Sharing information regarding such incidents should be encouraged. Adopting international standards relevant to critical infrastructure will help harmonize approaches to regulation and enforcement, reducing conflicts and improving cooperation.
  • Capacity Building: Investing in research and development and building capacity in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), drones, and space is crucial. G20 countries should support low- and middle-income nations in accessing research and technologies. Additionally, countries should respond to requests for assistance from states whose critical infrastructure has been affected, and promote the application of certified security technologies based on international standards.
  • Multistakeholder Approach: A multistakeholder commitment is vital to protecting critical information infrastructure. Governments, technology companies, and civil society groups should collaborate to share and analyze critical infrastructure information, prevent attacks, and respond to damage. Awareness should be raised to ensure stakeholders understand the nature and extent of critical information infrastructure and their respective roles in protecting it.
  • National Laws: G20 countries should incorporate the principles and norms for protecting critical infrastructure into their national laws. This will help create a culture of enforcement and cooperation at both the national and international levels.
  • Institutional Mechanism: Establishing an institutional mechanism for continuous research and the development of new standards for protecting critical infrastructure is essential. Drawing lessons from initiatives like the Christchurch Call, public-private partnerships can play a crucial role in establishing a global order for a safe cyberspace.


  • The protection of critical information infrastructure is of paramount importance in today’s interconnected world. The G20, with its representation of major economies and commitment to international cooperation, plays a crucial role in developing global norms for safeguarding critical infrastructure. By establishing a common understanding and definition of critical information infrastructure, the G20 can facilitate discussions and build consensus among member countries.

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