Deploying stronger, more sophisticated cyber security in the Arab World

The rise in cyber-attacks on organisations in the Arab World is driving demand for more powerful security solutions to mitigate the threats, according to David Flower of Bit9 + Carbon Black

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Deploying stronger, more sophisticated cyber security in the Arab World There is growing awareness of the risk of cyber-attack among organisations in the region, said Flower.
By  David Flower Published  January 15, 2016

Over the last few years, the highly interconnected Arab region has seen a huge increase in the use of smart phones and Internet services among its citizens and residents to fulfill their day-to-day needs. The Arab Knowledge Economy Report 2014 estimates that the Arab World will have more than 197 million Internet users by 2017, with its internet penetration rate growing to over 51% in the next two years.

However, with the interconnectivity of the region’s multicultural society coupled with its accelerated economic expansion, new challenges have emerged. The region, like the rest of the world, has become the target of many cyber criminals preying on the vulnerable and looking for ways to steal essential and sensitive data.

Experts have already noted a sharp increase in malware attacks in the region. In GCC, in particular, some leading companies have admitted to being victims of cyber attacks. In 2012, the region’s most high-profile online intrusion involved a major oil and gas company based in Saudi Arabia. The UAE is also no stranger to these highly complex and sophisticated cyber threats. In fact, authorities reported an alarming 88% increase in the number of electronic crime cases in Dubai alone in 2013 over the previous year.

With the resulting consequences of financial damage, loss of privacy and intellectual property, and reputation problems, governments, businesses, organisations and even individuals are fast ramping up their online security measures. They are constantly educating themselves about the best possible defense against costly and ever-evolving online breaches. This is evidenced by the increasing global spending on cyber security, which is estimated by research firm MarketsandMarkets to go up to $120 billion by 2017.

Most notably, regional governments have become more proactive in beefing up their cyber infrastructure to combat security threats. Studies have shown that cyber security business in the Gulf region will grow nearly threefold over the coming years as demand for unique solutions continues its upward growth trend.

The efforts have been paying off. This year, the e-crime team of the Dubai Police reported that it prevented at total of 901 e-crimes involving more than AED 9 million ($2.45m) from January to June 23rd, 2015. The e-crimes foiled were related to financial fraud, deception, theft, threat, blackmail, breach of privacy, slander, defamation and insult, theft of telephone services and impersonation.

We have been witnessing significant results but much still needs to be done. The major fundamental transformation and shifts in the cyber landscape enjoins us to continuously be more vigilant in our security policies. Cyber criminals are bolder because the internet affords them that so-called anonymity protection. Hence, we must counter these attacks with next-generation solutions, strong vigilance in all our cyber activities and adopt a frame of mind that will help prevent system breach. As simple as adopting good practices for handling smart devices such as protecting one’s passwords can make a big difference.

Bit9 + Carbon Black commissioned a survey in the UAE to provide a better understanding of the benefits of adapting powerful detection and response cyber security systems for information technology (IT) decision makers, CEO, managing directors and enterprise owners. The results show that the majority of IT decision makers in the country suspected that their organisations were victims of cyber attacks in the last 12 months and almost all of them expect to be targeted again this year. All respondents have either full or partial responsibility for their organisations’ IT security.

Four out of 10 (39%) respondents were certain that their organisations have been victims of cyber attacks in the last two years, with over a quarter (27%) saying this happened in 2014.  Furthermore, 59% said they think they have been attacked but they were not sure, while 14% said they do not think they have been attacked but there is no way to definitively determine if an attack actually happened.

These often shocking results should push more companies to significantly improve their cyber security systems, especially since hackers and cyber criminals have no plans of slowing down their relentless efforts to steal valuable information. In fact, over 90% of IT decision makers in UAE-based companies ranging from 500 to 3,000 employees believe that they will be attacked in 2015 and 2016.

These results indicate that large organisations are fully aware of the risks of an attack, allowing them to not only counter the breach but also to continuously evaluate their existing cyber security measures for their robust and effective implementation and ongoing protection.

Policies and initiatives focusing on establishing a stronger security must be part and parcel of the Arab region’s continuous heavy investments in smart grids and technologies. Deploying sophisticated solutions that fit its requirements and needs is the first step towards enjoying the benefits of a safe and secure cyber infrastructure and countering the range of threats levelled at government in the region.

David Flower is Managing Director EMEA, Bit9 + Carbon Black.

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