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Mena region faces threat of cybercrime

Kevin Mitnick - consultant and former hacker

July 17, 2013 9:54 by

Has there really been a substantial increase in cybercrime in the Middle East region?

There have been an unprecedented amount of security breaches in the region this year. The authorities in the UAE are taking [appropriate] measures, as cyber security is a critical issue, and companies and industry leaders are looking to protect themselves against hackers and ‘electronic armies’.

The UAE is the world’s fifth most targeted country by cyber phishers and hackers. With most attacks coming from China and Eastern Europe, these attacks cost businesses AED1.5 billion in the region.

Since Stuxnet, there have been quite a few target samples of advanced malware (like Duqu and Flame) that seem to target Middle Eastern companies and critical infrastructure. As a result, companies in the region are realising that firewalls alone are not going to prevent attacks, and that they need to invest in more technology and people to protect themselves.

Who are the most common targets?

Banks throughout the region have fallen victims to financially devastating attacks, with the recent security breaches of RAK BANK and Bank of Muscat (Oman), including public sectors, such as, the Saudi Government.

Hackers from the region are targeting the Middle East and expanding into Europe, with the recent reports that the Syrian ‘electronic army’ has attacked and compromised the UK-based broadcaster, Sky’s mobile apps. Another example is the recent political attack where tens of thousands of Iranian Gmail users encountered phishing attacks in the run-up to the Islamic republic’s presidential election.

What do you attribute this hike in cybercrime to?

The increase of BYOD in the region brings increased threats and challenges to the enterprise networks. Enterprises are continuously developing their network security measures as technologies develop, and threats become more advanced.

Unfortunately, BYOD security is regularly pushed to the sidelines and not seen as a serious issue, which can be the cause of major data breaches.

Due to the political turmoil in the Middle East, ‘hacktivism’ is also on the rise.

In addition to ‘hacktivism’, with the increased business growth and prosperity in the region, there is a lot at stake commercially as well. This is why many of the attacks are financially motivated, such as, the recent attacks on RAK BANK and Bank of Muscat.

When it comes to cyber protection, is the Gulf region lagging behind others like USA and Europe? If yes, why?

The increase of cyber threats together with the rise of BYOD is factors that have contributed to the increased demand for security software. The turnover of the global market for security software grew last year by 7.0 per cent to $19.2bn, according to Gartner.

According to IDC, the Middle East and Africa (MEA) security appliances market will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 9.6 per cent over the next four years to a total of approximately $350 million in revenue. The growing complexity and frequency of financially motivated cyber attacks in the region are forcing organisations to raise their level of concern and look to invest in IT security.

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