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Recent cyber attacks unavoidable, say experts

Panel stresses need for mitigation measures, aftermath planning

Recent cyber attacks unavoidable, say experts
Patches to counter malware can take eight hours to write and 48 hours to deploy.

Technology experts from the fields of decision-making, infrastructure management and information law voiced their thoughts today on the impact of the recent wave of cyber attacks across the GCC.

Speaking at Global Business Events' CIO Middle East forum at Meydan Hotel, the specialists stressed the importance of planning for the aftermath of such events.

"Our monitoring tools have to be more proactive, we have to monitor trends of data flow between our own infrastructures and the outside world and users need to understand that just because [an attack] has not happened in the past does not mean it will not happen at all," said Majid Al Mahdioum, Head of Search Security Quality Division, Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA).

Shams Hasan, Director of IT at Carnegie Mellon University, Qatar, called the attacks "a wake-up call" and said IT security needed to be part of a coherent corporate strategy.

"We need to take a look at the softer side of [IT] security," he said.

He also noted that the incident at Aramco involved a zero-day attack virus - malware that exploits a previously unknown vulnerability within a system - and was therefore unavoidable. Any preventative measures would only have served to lessen the impact of the incursion.

"To build a patch for [the virus] would have taken eight hours," said Hasan. "To have put it in place would have taken 48 hours. There would have been a hit. The question is: what happens after that impact?"

David Yates, Partner and Head of Technology, Media and Telecommunications at Al Tamimi & Company, suggested that the recent attacks were the exception rather than the rule and advised against tailoring information security policy towards their prevention.

"These attacks, tied as they are to political motivations, are headline news. I suggest you have more chance of someone [downloading] malware through social media or someone bringing a USB stick [to the workplace] and either taking or infecting data than you are likely to experience an external attack," he said. "However, if we are only pitching our information security resource allocation at the likelihood of an Aramco, we're probably not focusing on the right thing."

Apart from Aramco's PC infection, other recent hacking exploits in the region include the attack on RasGas and yesterday's SMS alert hijacking at Al-Jazeera news network.

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