New drive to showcase the treasures of Saudi Arabia’s ancient city of Al-Ula

Using technologies such as aerial LiDAR scanning, experts will meticulously uncover Al-Ula’s ancient secrets. (SPA)
Updated 03 May 2018
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New drive to showcase the treasures of Saudi Arabia’s ancient city of Al-Ula

  • Royal Commission launches program to explore historic site
  • Home to dramatic desert landscapes, spectacular rock formations and some of the Middle East’s most significant ancient sites

RIYADH:  The Royal Commission of Al-Ula (RCU) has launched an integrated program to explore archaeological treasures in the historic area that includes Madain Saleh, which became Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

Madain Saleh is the southernmost settlement of the Nabataeans — who carved out the city of Petra in Jordan — and one of the region’s archaeological treasures.

The archaeological program, with a major conservation and development plan for the area, brought together leading international archaeologists to help prepare for a new era of renewed international collaboration and tourism in line with Vision 2030, which includes diversifying Saudi tourism.

Home to dramatic desert landscapes, spectacular rock formations and some of the Middle East’s most significant ancient sites including those built by Lihyanite and Nabataean civilizations of the first millennium BC and beyond, historic Al-Ula is a wonder of the ancient Arabian world.

Rebecca Foote, head of heritage and archaeology at the Royal Commission, told Arab News on Wednesday: “At the heart of the Royal Commission’s archaeology program is a commitment to preserving Al-Ula’s extraordinary cultural heritage sites for generations to come.”

“Our work observes international best practice standards and utilizes some of the most sophisticated technology available for the archaeological program,” Foote said. “The temporary public closure of sites such as Madain Saleh will allow us to carry out vital work locating, mapping and visualizing Al-Ula’s past in order to evaluate vulnerabilities and implement appropriate protective interventions throughout the area.”

According to the RCU, a major integrated archaeological survey of Al-Ula valley and beyond has been launched by the commission, charged with protecting and regenerating this northwestern region. Until a conservation and development plan can be established, some of the sites including the World Heritage Site of Madain Saleh are temporarily closed to the public.

“Re-opening in 2020, the temporary closure will allow experts the opportunity to carry out vital research activity and plan for how to best preserve and present the sites,” the RCU said.

Using state-of-the-art technologies and methods such as aerial LiDAR scanning and photography captured from light aircraft, helicopter and drone, a team of the world’s leading experts led by Foote will meticulously document, map and model the area, supporting RCU’s mission to uncover Al-Ula’s ancient secrets and mysterious past.

Capable of recording surface features through vegetation, the LiDAR will see what lies within the palm groves of the oasis, and the helicopter team will record the remote and harder-to-reach sites.

Thoroughly documenting the area will provide a better understanding of these cultural heritage sites and their ancient past, something that is vital to safeguarding it for future generations.

Providing a window into the people and cultures that shaped the past, the findings will be collated in a bespoke heritage database and used by the RCU to develop a plan for preserving, studying and activating the area’s historic features.

This archaeological survey program supports the commission’s mission to protect and develop the heritage and historical sites of Al-Ula to achieve a sustainable transformation and to enable local, regional and international visitors to learn about the richness of its cultural, historical and natural heritage.

The RCU was established in July 2017 to protect and preserve the region’s extraordinary ancient heritage and natural landscapes and prepare for an era of renewed international collaboration and tourism coinciding with the goals set under Vision 2030.

The RCU has signed an agreement with Campus France, the leading international academic and vocational public institution in France, which will partly train young Saudis to work in this tourism area and discover archaeological treasures in the northwest of the Kingdom.

The first 200 young Saudis recruited for this purpose are in the vanguard of an ambitious project to bring travelers back to Al-Ula, this time as tourists and lovers of history eager to explore one of the greatest profusions of cultural and archaeological treasures.

Recruited from Al-Ula region, they are in Riyadh being trained in hospitality, learning new languages, studying farming and water technology and swotting up on the cultural, social and natural history of their home region.

Students from King Saud University are also being trained by expert archaeologists in international best practice, equipping them with the skills to become the next generation of cultural custodians for Al-Ula. Significantly, 5,000 years ago, Al-Ula was cosmopolitan. For traders and adventurers alike it was an essential stop on the route between the Mediterranean and the Arab world, and far beyond to Asia and Africa.

Located at a historic nexus of civilizations, on an important route of travel used from at least the first millennium BC for the trade of valuable commodities, Al-Ula is built on a history of exchange between cultures.

This exchange of knowledge and cultures goes back millennia and continues to be a crucial part of the area’s identity, and is a blueprint for its future.

A particular archaeological feature of the area are the more than 100 tombs, some over 20 meters tall, that dot the landscape.

French archaeologist Laila Nehme was the first foreign archaeologist to work in the Madain Saleh area and she discovered that it has many more secrets to be shared; the integrated archaeological program is underway to explore all these treasures.


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.”