Cyber Security – CERTs, Policy, etc

The world of Cyberspace and Cyber sovereignty


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Cyber space, cyber sovereignty and its implications

Cyber sovereignty


  • A state’s desire to control ‘cyberspace’ within its borders is achieved by exercising what is called ‘cyber sovereignty’. While some countries such as the United States (US) support the free flow of information, others like China, by default, restrict the flow for its citizens, leading to the fragmentation of the internet.

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What is mean by Cyber threat?

  • A cyber threat or cyber security threat is defined as a malicious act intended to steal or damage data or disrupt the digital wellbeing and stability of an enterprise.
  • Cyber threats include a wide range of attacks ranging from data breaches, computer viruses, denial of service, and numerous other attack vectors.

What is cyberspace?

  • Defined by Cyber security expert Daniel Kuehl: cyberspace is a global domain within the information system whose distinctive and unique character is framed by the use of electronics and the electromagnetic spectrum to create, store, modify, exchange, and exploit information via independent and interconnected networks using information-communication technologies.
  • Traditionally three layers of cyberspace: Traditionally, cyberspace was understood only in three layers: the physical/hardware, neural/software, and data.
  • Forth layer of social interaction and sovereignty: Alexander Klimburg, in his book The Darkening Web, introduced a fourth layer that deals with the social interaction among the three layers: “If cyberspace can be said to have a soul or mind, this is where it is. Establishing control over all the layers is necessary to build sovereignty in cyberspace.

Cyber sovereignty

What is Cyber sovereignty?

  • Term coined by Bruce Schneir: One of the leading voices in internet governance, Bruce Schneier, has coined the term as the attempt of governments to take control over sections of the internet within their borders.
  • It is about Internet governance: The term cyber sovereignty stems from internet governance and usually means the ability to create and implement rules in cyberspace through state governance.
  • Cyber sovereignty does not necessarily mean governance by state: Cyber sovereignty does not necessarily have to mean governance by a state. It first and foremost refers to the ability to create and implement rules in cyberspace. Alternatively, one could say it refers to the authority to speak the law, i.e., having juris-diction, in cyberspace.
  • Technology that drives policy decisions: In contrast to other technologies whose development is driven by policy, here it is technology which drives policy decisions. These characteristics make cyberspace governance complex and lead to confrontations among states and other stakeholders.

Whether states should be held accountable for cyber-attacks emanating from their territory?

  • Sovereignty as defined by ICJ: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) defines sovereignty as that which confers rights upon states and imposes obligations on them. This implies that states must control their cyber infrastructure and prevent it from being knowingly or unknowingly used to harm other states and non-state actors.
  • Who comes under the cyber sovereignty ambit: The state, or the citizens of the state, if involved in attacking other states or non-state actors’ cyber facilities, also come under the ambit of cyber sovereignty.

Cyber sovereignty

Implications of Cyber sovereignty

  • Cyber sovereignty restricts the free flow of information: The internet was created to promote the free flow of information, but cyber sovereignty works the other way around. Restricting the flow of information can also put global businesses at risk due to the lack of interoperability it leads to.
  • It may lead to data imperialism: Control over the data could lead to new forms of colonialism and imperialism, commonly referred to as ‘data colonisation’ and ‘data imperialism’ in the digital era. States and private players can overreach their powers and violate human rights through cyberspace surveillance, controlling information flow, and enforcing internet shutdowns.
  • Implications from the fragmentation of the internet to violation of human rights: The implications are broad, impinging on citizens’ rights such as privacy, freedom of expression, access to information, press freedom, freedom of belief, non-discrimination and equality, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, due process and personal security.
  • For instance: Access to geolocation data can give insights into people who participated in a protest. Further, based on a user’s online behaviour, it is possible to determine a person’s sexual orientation, political affiliation and religious beliefs.

Cyber sovereignty

Example to understand the Implication of cyber sovereignty

  • In 2009, seeking justice for their co-workers whom the Han Chinese killed in a doll factory, Uighurs, a Muslim minority community in China, organised a protest using Facebook and Uighur-language blogs.
  • Following this incident, Facebook and Twitter were blocked across the country, and the internet was shut down for ten months in the region.
  • Following the incident, the Chinese government, with the help of the private sector, developed AI-enabled applications like the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (Ijop) to monitor the daily activities of Uighur Muslims. This app obtains information like skin colour, facial features, properties owned, payments, and personal relationships, and reports if there are any suspicious activities. An investigation is initiated if the systems flag any person. Data is gathered 24/7 to carry out mass surveillance.

Value addition notes: Consider these for Essays

  • Unlike other spaces such as land, sea, air, and outer space, cyberspace was created by humans; therefore, complete control can be established over it.
  • Countries have tried to frame policies and rules to regulate cyberspace by building the necessary infrastructure.
  • This can be seen as either a defensive mechanism that states use to protect their own critical infrastructure or a framework adopted to exploit other states’ resources.
  • It has led to a security dilemma and added fuel to the fire of great-power politics.
  • Realising its importance, states have started to see cyberspace as equivalent to physical territory, and are building virtual walls to protect their ‘cyber territory’ with the help of various technologies.


  • It is often said that information is wealth, competition has developed between states, and between state and non-state actors, to control and access this wealth. The dichotomy of states trying to protect the data generated in their territory by introducing data protection laws but, simultaneously, wanting to exploit other states’ data is adding to the complexity.

Mains question

Q. Technological advancements have made cyberspace an integral part of human lives. In this context, what do you understand by Cyber sovereignty. Discuss the implications of cyber sovereignty.

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