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A Cyber Security Update of Gulf Countries

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In this brief article, we bring you the latest update from various cyber security reports based in gulf countries and Africa in terms of security preparedness...

According to various experts, Middle East, which is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, has made strides in technology adoption but is still vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

According to cyber experts, last year cyber criminals siphoned 4 billion Dirhams from various victims in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The latest ‘Norton Cyber Security Insights Report’ reveals that more than half of the adult population in the UAE fell victim to cybercrime last year. According to a report released by Kaspersky Lab based in Moscow, the level of protection against external attackers was assessed extremely low for 43% of organizations, which may increase attacks. The survey, which evaluates data collected from Middle East enterprises until the end of 2017, revealed that three-quarters i.e. 73% of successful perimeter breaches were achieved by penetrating vulnerable web applications. A senior security analyst of security services at Kaspersky Lab said that “Qualitative implementation of simple security measures like network filtering and password policy would significantly increase the security stance,”

According to consultants Fircroft, the high incidence of cyber-attacks in the gulf region is set to grow exponentially in the cybersecurity industry, which is worth $11.4 billion and is expected to grow double in size by the year 2022.

Cyber Attacks in Middle East and Africa
The danger of cyber-attacks were highlighted in several high-profile incidents in the gulf region. The Shamoon virus that first appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012 crippled 35,000 computers at Saudi Aramco, which is the world’s biggest oil producing company. In the same year, a deadly cyber virus was found in the computer network of Qatar’s RasGas, a producer of liquefied natural gas.

According to the ‘Cisco 2018 Security Capabilities Benchmark Study’, cyber-attacks in 48% of the Middle East and Africa companies resulted in damage of more than $500,000; while 58 per cent of the businesses had to manage an outage of more than five hours due to a breach.

According to Trend Micro, there were 1.7 billion ransomware attacks detected globally in the first quarter of 2018. Out of these, 2.4 million were in the UAE, followed by Kuwait and Bahrain with 1.9 million and 1.2 million respectively. According to security experts, the higher number of attacks in the UAE is due to the continued use of password-only authentication.

Need For Growth
According to experts, there is a long way to go for Middle East enterprises to grow in cyber security Industry. According to Microsoft’s 2018 Digital Transformation survey, when security professionals are recommending next-generation Identity-management techniques such as facial recognition and biometric identification, just over 80% of large Gulf enterprises still use usernames and passwords as the exclusive means of log-in to the systems.

Mohammed Arif, regional director of modern workplace and security at Microsoft Gulf said that “The findings clearly show that many of the region’s enterprises have a long way to go to create secure environments for their customers, employees and their intellectual property,”

The Road Ahead
In the coming months, according to cyber experts, there could be a increase in the number of crypto-jacking attempts and malware attacks in the Middle East. Besides, the region’s Operational Technology ecosystem will be more prone to cyber-attacks. Kalle Bjorn, a director of systems engineering at cybersecurity software developer Fortinet in Dubai, said that “OT environments in the region such as oil and gas and utilities industries will be more at risk with the rise in sophisticated cyber-attacks,”. He added “Cyber criminals are becoming smarter and faster in how they leverage exploits to their advantage, and organisations in the Middle East are at high risk of being targeted.”

There is also a growing concern about data security among regional organisations. Samina Rizwan, senior director of business analytics and big data for MEA at Oracle stated “As per the Gartner study, by 2022, cyber security rating of an enterprise will be equally important as credit rating. Therefore, it becomes very essential to safeguard your (enterprises’) data from cyber criminals,”

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