JEDDAH: A Saudi ethical hacker named “inspiring innovator of the year” at a prestigious awards ceremony in London has revealed her secret for staying one step ahead of cyberattackers.
“I act as an attacker and adopt the hacker’s mindset,” 28-year-old cybersecurity specialist Noor Al-Rayes told Arab News.
“It takes a hacker to catch a hacker.”
Al-Rayes, founder and CEO of Alien Security and co-founder and chief operation officer of Securmind, received the “inspiring innovator of the year” award from London-based private bank Arbuthnot Latham on June 5.
After accepting the award, she urged governments and businesses to step up their campaign and be more aggressive in the fight against cybercrime.
“Many companies offer ethical hacking services, but they approach it from an information security perspective, not a hacker perspective.
“We believe this service must be provided in a more aggressive way, exactly like hackers do,” she said.
“The severity and complexity of recent cyberattacks require more than traditional approaches to fight cybercrime and maximize cyber defense.
“Ethical hacking should be part of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy. When I provide ethical hacking services, I act as an attacker and adopt the hacker’s mindset. That way, companies will stay one step ahead of attackers and avoid costly cyber breaches.
“There is no better way to test the security level of IT systems than borrowing the skills of an experienced ethical hacker, which is why I created Alien Security,” she said.
Al-Rayes described recent major advances in the digital world as “a double-edged sword,” and warned that future cybersecurity incidents could prove “catastrophic.”
“Advances in technology have brought so many positive aspects, but there is a downside ... everything is susceptible to hacking,” she said. “If a hacker has the right skills, experience, knowledge, tools and time, they will be able to hack into any system.”
Cybersecurity is growing in importance, Al-Rayes said, and cyberwars now represent a serious threat to national security.
“The outcomes of a major cybersecurity incident of that nature could be catastrophic, which is why ethical hackers are a powerful addition to any defense strategy where they work both on the defensive and offensive sides,” she said.
Al-Rayes came to the UK on the King Abdullah Scholarship Program and gained a master’s degree in cybersecurity at City University of London.
• Cybercrime will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015, according to a recent report from Cybersecurity Ventures.
• Cybercrime costs include damage and destruction of data, stolen money, lost productivity, theft of intellectual property, theft of personal and financial data, embezzlement, fraud, post-attack disruption to the normal course of business, forensic investigation, restoration and deletion of hacked data and systems and reputational harm, according to experts.
“I was endorsed by the UK government and was granted an exceptional talent visa and world leader in technology. I also received the young achievers award at a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament, and was recognized as a future leader for my efforts for the cybersecurity industry,” she said.
The Saudi entrepreneur founded the cybersecurity consultancy Alien Security in 2018.
“We provide cybersecurity penetration testing, management and support. We also provide cybersecurity forensics where we launch a full cybersecurity investigation to explain how the cyberattack happened, why, when, and how we can fix it and avoid it in the future.”
Al-Rayes said she was honored to receive Arbuthnot Latham’s inspiring innovator of the year award.
“Arbuthnot Latham offers great support for startups and entrepreneurs. I am very happy I got the chance to share my passion with them and introduce Alien Security to the amazing audience at the event. I also hope that I made my country proud as the government and everyone at the Saudi Embassy and Cultural Bureau in London were extremely supportive and encouraging.
“As for receiving it as a Saudi woman, it is our mission as scholarship holders to represent our country in the best way possible, and I hope I fulfilled my part and will continue to do so throughout my journey,” Al-Rayes said.
“We already have such strong and amazing Saudi women ... and I hope this inspires more women and encourages them to get involved in science and cybersecurity.”
Al-Rayes also said that receiving the exceptional talent visa was a “great honor and a major boost as a cybersecurity specialist, woman and a Saudi student.”
“It pushed me to work harder. I was endorsed by the UK government and recognized as a world leader in technology because of my entrepreneurial career and also for the projects I am working on now, including a project fighting cyber terrorism.
“There are a lot of pressing issues that requires immediate attention such as human error in information security, improving facial and object recognition systems to minimize cyber terrorism, analyzing dark web criminal activity and detecting cybercrime. These are some of the projects that I am gathering data for.”
Al-Rayes’ master’s project explored the targeting of cybercrime within dark web forums using machine learning, artificial intelligence and data mining techniques.
“The dark web is an underground society for criminal activity, including cyberterrorism,” said Al-Rayes.
“The main goal of this project is to aid police and governments in fighting cybercrime using an advanced and intelligent system that can target specific crimes, detect and analyze them.”
She highlighted that many extremist groups use social media and the dark web to recruit young people.
“Using artificial intelligence and advanced technology to help fight these problems is important since it would be used not only for detection purposes but also for analyzing criminal behavior and recognizing threats before it is too late.
“That is why I am working on redeveloping this project and enhancing the training to make the system more powerful.”