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Penetration without education – UAE

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You wouldn't believe how much money was lost because of lack of cyber awareness in the UAE and how only a handful of users are, for the moment, left unscathed.

December 10, 2012 3:14 by

We shouldn’t be panicking about the end of the world, especially when there are more realistic things to worry about. Besides, NASA has already dedicated a FAQ section to address the much talked about conspiracy. We are told that we have to brace ourselves for a storm of advanced cybercrime in 2013.

As much as the UAE exists in the media as an iconic and attractive destination for investors, tourists and property buyers it’s also a rather popular target for cybercrime. Last year, Symantec says it was ranked as one of the most highly spammed countries in the world. This year, according to a report by Norton, it has cost the country AED 1.5 billion in direct financial losses and victimised 1.5 million people.

Oh Kipp, we get it! There is a lot of cybercrime out there, and we’re always careful so please stop. Well Kippers, the fact is that the most obvious of common sense precautions are ones that need the most frequent reminders. We speak with Justin Doo, cloud and security practices director for MENA, Symantec in hopes that we could all be a little more aware and really understand why the UAE is such a popular target.

“It’s popular because perpetrators see the higher rate of success here. It’s in the emerging markets and Internet penetration is higher than education,” Doo says. “Another key factor is the use of genuine software versus counterfeit. Yes the authorities have been rather loud and vocal but piracy is still higher than in mature markets.”

Doo explains that targeting is hardly ever random and we should bear in mind how educated these people are. After all, he adds, it takes money to set things up. “I would speculate that the UAE is more popular because of its population and online penetration.”

He adds that we as a region are – by definition – more trusting. And Kipp couldn’t agree more. “We leave our shops open, our mobile phones on the table and cars unlocked. We don’t fear theft in the UAE as much as in other parts of the world.”

You may have received countless spam calls, messages and emails from wealthy Nigerians claiming to be making you a rich man or woman. You stop and think, how silly would anyone have to be to fall for that? Well, the fact is that techniques and technology are advancing and you would be surprised.

“We should never forget that they are educated,” Doo warns. “They know the region and they know what to do. They also know how to take advantage of something viral and with elements of human interest. We get telephone calls from someone claiming to be from a Etisalat saying we won huge amounts of money, and some people fall for that – because we’re too trusting and sometimes too susceptible.”

Even if you’re shaking your head at this point, it’s not necessary that you would fall victim to cyber attacks in the same manner. Kipp reckons that with the popularity of social media and the numerous apps that ask for your permission, we are handing our security to attackers on a silver platter. “Social media, by default, is viral. It uses interest and commonality to spread. Now the trend we’re seeing is how attackers can hijack the trust we’re putting into these sites and you have to remember, even if they have a success rate of 1 percent on Facebook, that’s still almost 10 million.” The Symantec report notes that in this year alone, 46 percent of social media users in the UAE had fallen victim to cybercrime while the global average is at 39 percent.

Obviously, with the unique diversity of the country’s population, it’s not always the easiest task to spread awareness in a simple enough way for everyone to understand. “When you’re spreading a message about online security here, how many languages do we have to communicate in?” Doo asks. “It’s not just Arabic and English. Almost 90 percent of the population are expatriates who are extremely active on social media, keeping in touch with friends and families back home – which make us even more trusting and open to sharing.”

He explains that particularly when content goes viral on social media – it is then that perpetrators leap to chance of using that to spread malicious websites and software. We are far more ready to share something if it comes – or appears to – from someone that we trust, he adds. He reminds us that money is almost always the key driver and infiltrating one’s online privacy could just be the first step to many things. “Somebody earlier had designed an app or the code for it that would enable users on Facebook to dislike posts. Obviously, thousands went ahead and posted that code into their browsers and malware was automatically downloaded on their machines.”

Who then, do we turn to?

To a certain extent we can expect users to do certain things and be more cautious. Question things more, he stresses. “We still need to pressure the service providers for a better infrastructure and more protection. Even if there is a link to a malicious website or malware, the link behind it can be blocked them. We need to ask more from the service providers.”

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