Saudi Arabia’s war against hackers

Caline Malek
Wed, 2019-04-17 01:22

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is the target of the highest number of
cyberattacks in the Middle East, with over 160,000 hitting servers
every day. The aim of the attackers is simple: To cripple the
national economy by targeting the online systems of public and
private sector organizations.
Despite being one of the more technologically advanced nations in
the region, a recent policy study, conducted by the
Washington-based Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research,
suggests that a lack of local training courses, and general
unawareness of the dangers posed by cyberattacks, are leaving the
Kingdom exposed.
“It was very important to conduct a policy study, to understand
the landscape, dynamics and gaps of the cybersecurity measures in
Saudi Arabia, and propose recommendations to the government and
relevant (parties) for improvements,” said Dr. Muhammad Khurram
Khan, founder and CEO of the foundation. “This policy paper could
also play a pivotal role for other nations whose national
infrastructures and economies are similar.”
Some of the key findings of the study, “Cybersecurity Challenges
of Saudi Arabia: Past, Present and Future,” suggest that the
Kingdom could improve its local training programs to promote a
“cyber aware” culture in the country. “While Saudi Arabia is
improving its cybersecurity in leaps and bounds, it also needs to
pay careful attention to providing mandatory awareness and training
programs at a national level,” said Khan.
“Under the umbrella of the National Cybersecurity Authority,
there is a dire need to start educational initiatives to develop
the local Saudi industry, by (increasing) entrepreneurship and
fostering a start-up culture, especially among young people.”
Cybercrime has caused severe financial losses for various companies
in the Kingdom and abroad over the years, but it has also led to
intelligence compromises, threatening national security. Government
efforts to respond, though, have not always succeeded. With an
increasing number of people regularly connected to the internet —
up from 15 million in 2012 to 23 million last year — keeping pace
with technology as it advances has proven tough.
“Social media terrorism and ‘hacktivism’ (the disruption of
services rather than the theft of information) are two more
challenging areas the Kingdom needs to work on,” Khan added.
“Cyberspace has become the fifth domain of modern warfare, and it
is a major national security issue. It is vital to develop local
cybersecurity capabilities to combat the most stringent
The government has already recognized this issue, working hard to
enforce cybersecurity measures even more aggressively following
attacks on Saudi Aramco in 2012.
In August 2017, another cyberattack on a petrochemical facility was
thwarted due to a glitch in the malware coding. “Saudi Vision
2030 envisions secure and resilient digital infrastructure with
high-speed internet access across the country,” Khan noted.
“Therefore, the Kingdom needs to boost its cybersecurity.”
Other key findings of the study mention the need for legal,
regulatory, disaster and recovery management policies for both
public and private sector organizations in the cyber realm, as well
as a need to address a dearth of women at any level of the
“In the Middle East, women represent 5 percent of cybersecurity
professionals, the lowest number in the world. So it is (important)
to attract more, to open new opportunities for them in the pursuit
of Vision 2030.”
According to Dr. Fatmah Baothman, the first woman in the Middle
East with a doctorate in artificial intelligence and an assistant
professor in computing and information technology at King Abdul
Aziz University for more than 25 years, Saudi women are valuable
assets to cybersecurity firms.
“They can help in designing security systems in
education, banking, business and security management, and can act
as consultants, developers and managers of security centers,” she
Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing sectors in Saudi
Arabia, with a market value expected to reach $5 billion by 2022.
Some recent initiatives undertaken by the Kingdom include the
establishment of the National Cybersecurity Authority, the Saudi
Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, and the
Prince Mohammed bin Salman College of Cybersecurity, Artificial
Intelligence and Advanced Technologies.
“It is one of the important topics for Vision 2030,” Baothman
explained. “Saudi universities have designed special security
tracks, and some have opened new departments, with a new college
already established in Riyadh. At high-level national planning,
cybersecurity is considered among the top priorities.”
For now, experts recommend more investment in the sector. “Middle
Eastern countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, face some
of the highest numbers of cyberattacks globally,” said Ivan
Dolensky, vice president of international sales at Fidelis
Cybersecurity. “Couple this with the shortage of strong talent
— estimated to be 1.8 million workers by 2022 — and it is easy
to understand why security teams are overwhelmed. In fact,
according to findings from a survey we conducted last year, 83
percent of companies cannot manage half of their daily security
For Mark Leveratt, cybersecurity advisor to the Defense Services
Marketing Council in Abu Dhabi, a strong framework will need to be
put in place. “Saudi Arabia has done some work on this, and
government agencies are looking to come up with a national security
strategy,” he said. “Policies are being put in place, but you
need to enact them and create general awareness. Our lives are now
dependent upon technology, yet policies and laws are behind the
pace at which it is developing.”
Regulating social media platforms remains a problem. “One of the
greatest challenges with social media is anonymity, which is why
trolling and fake news have been issues,” Leveratt explained.
“We may need stronger ways of authenticating real people, which
is very hard. But Saudi Arabia is investing in technology now,
because they see it as a means of growing their economy post-oil,
and they are achieving great things in terms of investment and
growth, modelling a lot of what they are doing on the UAE.”

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Source: *FS – All – Science News Net
Saudi Arabia’s war against hackers