Experts: Creation of Saudi cybersecurity center boosts internet user confidence

Participants at the Information Security Conference in Riyadh on Tuesday. (AN photo)
Updated 22 November 2017
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Experts: Creation of Saudi cybersecurity center boosts internet user confidence

RIYADH: Participants at the Information Security Conference, which concluded on Tuesday in Riyadh, strongly felt that the establishment of the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) provided added confidence and security to internet users at all levels.
The Information Security Conference in the Middle East and North Africa region hosted over 400 cybersecurity professionals, students and sponsors, who discussed the factors threatening the internet, especially in relation to economic, medical, governmental, financial and other services.
Amir Kannan, the general manager of Kaspersky Lab in the Middle East, said the NCSC, headed by Dr. Musaed bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, would keep tabs on all intrusions that threaten cybersecurity. He said Saudi Arabia has given utmost priority to cybersecurity and it is evident from the establishment of the NCSC.
Referring to a recent study, Kanaan pointed out that targeted attacks have become one of the fastest growing threats in 2017. Sixty-four percent of respondents in the study conducted in Saudi Arabia agreed that threats are becoming more complex and it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between generic and complex attacks.
He said Kaspersky Lab has drawn attention to the evolving nature of cyber threats, which are becoming a major problem for businesses.
Of the respondents from Saudi Arabia, 39 percent have stated that they are starting to realize that a security breach will happen to them at some point, while an alarming 44 percent are still unsure of the most effective strategy to respond to these threats
Stressing that technology is one of the most important parts in this mix, he said there is a clear need for security solutions that go beyond prevention and provide a complete package, also adding a detection and response functionality. Citing an example, he said, 45 percent of the Kingdom’s businesses agree that they need better tools to detect and respond to advanced persistent threats (APTs) and targeted attacks.
The CEO of VirtuPort and the organizer of the conference, Samer Omar, said the conference achieved its objectives of promoting an advanced society in the technology sector and enhancing opportunities for senior leaders and thinkers in the field of electronic information security to meet with government officials and representatives of specialized sectors in the Kingdom.
George Patsis, chief executive officer of Obrela, noted that global spending on information protection will rise by $117.4 billion by 2019, and cybersecurity spending between 2017 and 2021 will reach $1 trillion.
Many international companies specialized in combating cyber threats and information security attended the conference. Representatives of those companies stressed the importance of promoting effective proactive measures that will systematically reduce cybersecurity threats through the management of professionally qualified units.
Saudi Arabia’s security officials said on Monday that the country had been targeted as part of a wide-ranging cyber espionage campaign observed since February against five Middle East nations as well as several countries outside the region, reported Reuters.
The NCSC said in a statement the Kingdom had been hit by a hacking campaign bearing the technical hallmarks of an attack group dubbed “MuddyWater” by US cyber firm Palo Alto Networks.
Palo Alto’s Unit 42 threat research unit published a report last Friday showing how a string of connected attacks this year used decoy documents with official-looking government logos to lure unsuspecting users from targeted organizations to download infected documents and compromise their computer networks.
The Saudi security agency said in its own statement that the attacks sought to steal data from computers using email phishing techniques targeting the credentials of specific users.
The NCSC said they also comprised so-called “watering hole” attacks, which seek to trick users to click on infected web links to seize control of their machines.
Saudi Arabia has been the target of frequent cyberattacks, including the “Shamoon” virus, which cripples computers by wiping their disks and has hit both government ministries and petrochemical firms.
Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, was hit by an early version of the “Shamoon” virus in 2012.


KSA must become more resilient against cyberattacks

Updated 22 July 2018
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KSA must become more resilient against cyberattacks

  • Healthcare data is of particular interest to hackers because it can be used to blackmail people in positions of power
  • A trained security professional cannot win the battle against cybercrime with just a mere knowledge of IT security

DUBAI: Cybercrime attacks could double over the next two years and cost Saudi Arabia’s economy up to SR30 billion ($8 billion) by 2020, according to security experts who warn the Kingdom is the most targeted county in the GCC for online fraudsters.
While Saudi Arabia is stepping up the war against cybercrime, the Kingdom must invest in training its own security professionals, expand its pool of skilled workers and strengthen its cybersecurity regulation to become more resilient against emerging attacks.
“Based on our relationship with key Saudi clients, we see that cybercrime in Saudi is growing faster than in most of the countries in the world, with more than a 35 percent increase in the number of attacks during the past year,” said Simone Vernacchia, a partner in Digital, CyberSecurity, Resilience and Infrastructure for PWC Middle East.
“Based on our experience in the GCC, Saudi is being targeted more frequently, and the cost of cyberattacks is 6 to 8 percent higher than in the rest of the GCC countries. The Saudi economy provides a more appealing target for cyberattackers.”
Vernacchia said it can be difficult to measure the true direct and indirect cost on Saudi Arabia’s economy each year.
“This said, we would expect direct and indirect costs arising from cyberattacks to total $3 to $4 billion (SR11.25 billion to SR15 billion) for 2018,” said Vernacchia.
“Assuming the growth will not be affected by large-scale events, we expect the direct and indirect impact of cyberattacks to grow up to $6 to $8 billion (SR22.5 billion to SR30 billion) by 2020. Among the major external events that can affect this figure, uncertainties in the region can result in an even more aggressive surge of cyberattacks.”
Vernacchia said there was a lack of willpower in organizations to invest in security measures, and urged them to invest in the manpower and technology that will enable them to become more resilient in the face of growing attacks. While Saudi is “not completely unprepared,” most businesses in the Kingdom are investing in cybersecurity far less than the leading countries.
“We see the average investment in cybersecurity awareness and capability to be on average about 60 percent lower in Saudi Arabia than what is invested by organizations of the same size in leading countries.
“This is a result of limited regulatory requirements for private entities, as private companies are trading the immediate benefit of spending less on cybersecurity protection with the high cost of one — or more — potentially highly effective targeted cyberattacks.”
An increase in cybersecurity regulation could also strongly limit the growth of cyberattacks, Vernacchia said. “The limited amount of cybersecurity-related regulation is a key issue, as it’s having two key effects. On one hand, some businesses are underestimating their exposure, and thus not investing in cybersecurity as they should — de facto increasing their risk. Other businesses are waiting for regulation to be drafted before investing in cybersecurity, in fear that the organization, processes and solutions they would implement may not be in line with the regulatory requirements which are coming.”
Amir Kolahzadeh, CEO of cybersecurity firm ITSEC, said Saudi-based business are reluctant to invest in adequate cybersecurity measures as they fail to recognize the long-term value of the initial investment needed.
“The core issues that every business is looking at in cybersecurity is a line item expense instead of looking what the cost would be if there is a breach,” he said. “This is a worldwide epidemic at the moment. However, it is much more evident in the GCC due to lack of truly trained IT security professionals who can show the business acumen, foresight and the communication skills to demonstrate that potential losses are exponentially greater than the cost of securing the enterprise.”
David Michaux, of online security company Whispering Bell, said as Saudi Arabia forges ahead with its knowledge-based economy and becomes “more online,” the potential for attacks will grow.
With Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 of a “knowledge economy,” growth in the ICT will be fueled by digitization — including IT innovation, big data projects, smart city initiatives, and cloud-based services. In addition, Saudis are among the most active social media users in the world — and largest adopters of Twitter in the Arab region.
Mathivanan V., vice president of ManageEngine, said while Saudi Arabia has taken “significant steps” to achieve cyber-readiness, including the introduction of the National Authority of Cyber Security which aims to enhance the protection of networks, IT systems, and data through regulatory and operational tasks, he warned that sophisticated cyberthreats have evolved in the wake of digitization and urged companies to better employ sustainable IT practices and state-of-the-art cybersecurity tools.
“A trained security professional cannot win the battle against cybercrime with just a mere knowledge of IT security,” he said. “What he needs is the right weapon to master the art of cybersecurity.”
James Lyne, head of R&D at SANS Institute, which specializes in information security, said given Saudi Arabia’s visible agenda to lead the charge in smart cities, connected industry and to develop a knowledge economy, it is key that the Kingdom also has an equally ambitious cybersecurity skills strategy.
“A gap between the two will lead to substantial attacks and reputation damage for the region,” he said.
“Firstly, Saudi Arabia needs more cybersecurity practitioners overall — particularly with the ambitious development projects being undertaken as part of the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision. Secondly, existing cybersecurity practitioners also have to continue to sharpen their skills to increase the depth of their expertise.”
He urged companies not to ignore the fact that employee behavior is a weak link in cybersecurity and is becoming an increasing source of risk.
“Many of the breaches that occur still take advantage of basic cybersecurity failures and, as such, education has to be a huge part of the solution. Everyone in Saudi Arabia has a role to play in making sure that cybercriminals get fewer clicks on their nasty emails, documents and phishing links.”
He said it was difficult to truly grasp the overall financial figures associated with cybercrime.
“That said, even the tip of the iceberg that we do see is very substantial and it has already been demonstrated that Saudi Arabia is a major target. Given attackers have already had success compromising facilities, it is extremely likely other cybercriminals will follow.”