Counting the cost of Middle East cyberattacks

Counting the cost of Middle East cyberattacks
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Cybercrime is becoming the preserve of governments and hacktivists, rather than lone wolf criminals. Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region are increasingly bearing the brunt of this “fifth military domain.” (Shutterstock)
Counting the cost of Middle East cyberattacks
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The global oil industry has become a regular target of hackers. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 September 2019

Counting the cost of Middle East cyberattacks

Counting the cost of Middle East cyberattacks
  • Riyadh hosts the seventh Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Information Security Conference on Sept 8 & 9
  • Size of the Kingdom's cybersecurity market is projected to swell to $3 billion this year

DUBAI: As Riyadh prepares to host the seventh Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Information Security Conference, the focus is on both the human capital and the technological investments required by regional institutions to defend themselves successfully from cyberattacks.

The title of the conference, “Cyber Space, The New Frontier: Deception, Orchestration and Blackholes,” may conjure images of intergalactic supervillains, but the objective is fairly down to earth: To enhance connectivity and networking among senior regional cybersecurity professionals.
Companies and organizations in the MENA region neglect information security at their peril. Saudi Arabia’s cybersecurity market alone is expected to grow to $5.5 billion by 2023, as the Kingdom upgrades its information-technology infrastructure to combat increasingly frequent cyberattacks.
A report, titled “MEA Cybersecurity Market Forecast to 2023,” predicts the market will swell to $3 billion in 2019.
“The professional services segment of the cybersecurity market is projected to grow to $1.4 billion by 2023,” said Samer Omar, CEO of the MENA Information Security Conference 2019.
In the same period, Saudi Arabia’s large enterprises segment, and small and medium enterprises segment (SMEs) are respectively projected to grow to $3.4 billion and $2 billion, driven by increases in their adoption of advanced cybersecurity solutions.
The Kingdom’s size, wealth,  digitalization of government services and geopolitical prominence make it a prime target for all types of cyberattackers, from hacktivists and cybercriminals to nation-state intelligence-gathering and offensive information warfare operations.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, it ranked first regionally and 13 out of 175 countries in the Global Cybersecurity Index for 2018.
“As the world gets more and more interconnected and we become increasingly dependent on technology, the threat landscape is broadening and creating more opportunities for attackers,” said Mark Leveratt, cybersecurity advisor to the Defense Services Marketing Council in Abu Dhabi. “This is leaving individuals, organizations, governments and nations increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks.”
Omar, who has more than 24 years of experience in the cybersecurity industry, says cybercrime is no longer merely about a solitary hacker; it involves highly organized and trained groups and underground organizations serving specific objectives, especially political ones.
To combat such threats and limit their adverse effects, he says, users need to be fully aware about the importance of preserving their data and systems, and of heeding security advice and guidance.

IN NUMBERS

$5.5bn - Projected size of Saudi Arabia’s cybersecurity market by 2023.

$3bn - Projected value of cybersecurity market in 2019.

13 - Saudi Arabia’s global rank out of 175 countries in Global Cybersecurity Index 2018.

$6tn - Projected global cost of cybercrime by 2021.

Leveratt concurs, saying that most cybercrimes are committed by organized groups, whose methodologies, tactics, techniques and procedures keep changing to take advantage of the vulnerabilities in software and hardware for financial gain.
“Nation-state cyberespionage and offensive cyberwarfare are also on the increase, with several well-documented incidents in recent years,” he said. “Cyberspace is now widely considered the fifth military domain.”
Experts say cybercriminals are learning to monetize their efforts more effectively through ingenious and disruptive methods, in addition to embracing the latest developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning to make their attacks more powerful.
“Mobile platforms are one of the fastest-growing targets for cybercriminals. Cybercrime is today a massive industry and one of the world’s most lucrative activities,” Leveratt said. “Cybercrime pays. The comparative return on investment is exponential and it can act as a massive force multiplier and level the playing field for less militarily advanced nations.
“Overall, organizations are improving their cybersecurity strategies, but it is not enough to keep pace with the rapidly changing threats and risks imposed by new technologies.
“To put that in context, some governments are considering allowing the use of nuclear weapons in the fight against cybercrime.”
According to Kaspersky Security Network, an average of 27.3 percent of all users in the MENA region were affected by web-threat incidents during the first quarter of this year. Saudi Arabia had the highest number — 35.9 percent.
“With more complicated and evolving technologies in all sectors, hackers today are using innovative tools to match the advances and achieve their objectives, from financial crime to data theft and cyberespionage, to target both individuals and enterprises,” said Maher Yamout, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.
“Gulf Cooperation Council  countries hold the largest proven crude oil reserves in the world, approximately 495 billion barrels, which represents almost 30 percent of the world’s total and is categorized as the largest producer and exporter of crude petroleum. This makes the oil and gas industry an critical regional asset, which makes it a lucrative target for cybercriminals.
“It is estimated that cybercrime could cost the world about $6 trillion by 2021, which is more profitable than the global trade in illegal drugs,” said Muhammad Khurram Khan, founder and CEO of the Washington-based Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research.
“Saudi Arabia, due to its geopolitical and strategic importance regionally and internationally, has become a key target of cybercriminals.”
In recent years, state-sponsored adversaries have launched serious cyberattacks with elaborate planning on critical infrastructure and government departments of the Kingdom.
“They are also targeting the general public and local organizations, including hospitals, universities and SMEs, for financial gain by performing ransomware attacks, which have increased by almost 400 percent over the previous years,” Khan said.
Khan adds cybercrime legislation should be an integral part of the national cybersecurity strategy of every country.
“Fortunately, Saudi Arabia has developed an anti-cybercrime law that aims to secure the safe exchange of data, protect the rights of users and the internet, and defend the public interest, morals and privacy,” he said.


Gebran Bassil ‘coerced’ my father to apologize, says Lebanese woman hailed for confronting MP

Gebran Bassil ‘coerced’ my father to apologize, says Lebanese woman hailed for confronting MP
Updated 11 min 8 sec ago

Gebran Bassil ‘coerced’ my father to apologize, says Lebanese woman hailed for confronting MP

Gebran Bassil ‘coerced’ my father to apologize, says Lebanese woman hailed for confronting MP
  • Yasmine Masri tells Arab News what led her to shout ‘shame on you’ at reviled politician
  • Activist captures anger of young Lebanese towards corrupt politicians and vows to ‘never shut up’

BEIRUT: A Lebanese woman hailed as a hero for confronting the widely despised MP Gebran Bassil, has vowed to remain defiant despite claiming her father was forced to apologize for her actions.

On Sunday, a video was widely shared of Yasmine Masri scuffling with bodyguards working for the head of the Free Patriotic Movement [FPM] after she heckled him with a cry of “shame on you.”

The brawl took place at a restaurant in Bassil’s home town of Batroun, northern Lebanon.

Masri said she was assaulted and had her phone broken by his security entourage but she told Arab News she was proud to confront Bassil. However, she said her father had been “coerced into apologizing” for her the bust up.

On Tuesday, a photo of the MP and the 31-year-old woman’s father was published in Lebanese media along with a story saying he met Bassil and apologized for his daughter’s behavior.

Masri says she was assaulted and had her phone broken by MP's security entourage but says she was proud to confront Bassil. (Supplied)

Masri was having lunch with friends in a newly-opened restaurant in Batroun when she saw Bassil and his entourage.

Lebanese are furious with the ruling elite and blame them for plunging the country towards economic collapse.

As the son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun and a strong political ally of Iran-backed Hezbollah, Bassil in particular has come to symbolize the country’s corrupt self-serving politicians. 

Last year, the US issued sanctions against him, accusing him of being “notorious for corruption.”

Speaking to Arab News, Masri said Bassil “forced her father in to apologizing under threat, blackmailing and shaming him.” She preferred not to give details of the nature of the blackmail.

“I have received physical threats,” she said. “Just now, shortly before responding to this interview my mother called and asked me to stop; saying she doesn’t want to pick me up injured from a hospital.” 

But Masri, who like many young Lebanese is broiling with anger over the country’s plight, vowed not to stop expressing herself.

The food and drink manager was angered that Bassil had the audacity to show up in public as if he had no responsibility for the country’s woes.

Recounting what happened, she felt within her rights to shout “shame on you” in Arabic.

She said Bassil sent his bodyguards over to her and they threatened to beat her.

“I told them go ahead and they started beating me … then I took back my phone and followed them and took a video. Then they beat me again and threw my phone on the floor and broke it,” she added.  

Masri said FPM supporters chased her for up to four hours around Batroun after the initial clash and would not let her leave the area.

“Batroun’s pompous blowhards [supporters of FPM and Bassil] were spitting at me, insulting me and threatening me all over the place,” she said.

Masri describes herself as a politically-independent civil society activist, who became active during widespread anti-government protests in October 2019.

When asked if she was going to tone down her criticism for her dad’s safety, she replied: “No, definitely not. I will not play the game as I don’t go with threats … and if they will go violent, they will lose.”

On whether she plans to initiate legal action, Masri said she had consulted a lawyer.

Bassil’s media office said on Sunday that he and his family were about to leave in their car when a woman used foul language against him.

His entourage responded ‘naturally, peacefully and modernly” to stop her from cursing.

The statement said: “The era of leaving swearwords unanswered is over” and urged FPM supporters to “respond accordingly.”

After hearing the news of her father’s apology, Masri posted a statement saying: “I hereby confirm to you that I will never shut up … I will never hide what I think in the face of fear, threats and terrorism … my father was threatened … all he is doing is in order to protect me.”

International Lebanese artist Elissa said on Twitter “every hand that beats a woman should be broken.”


Expelled Jordanian MP Osama Al-Ajarmeh arrested

Expelled Jordanian MP Osama Al-Ajarmeh arrested
Updated 24 min 23 sec ago

Expelled Jordanian MP Osama Al-Ajarmeh arrested

Expelled Jordanian MP Osama Al-Ajarmeh arrested

LONDON: A Jordanian MP expelled from parliament for inciting riots, has been arrested Jordan News Agency reported on Wednesday.
Jordanian MPs voted earlier this month to remove Osama Al-Ajarmeh from the lower house after violence erupted in the suburb of Naour, a stronghold of the Ajarmeh tribe in southwest Amman. 
Four police officers were wounded in clashes with supporters of the MP.
Al-Ajarmeh was seen in a video insulting King Abdullah II while carrying a sword and a gun in a shoulder holster.


Lebanon govt hopes collapse amid heated exchanges

Lebanon govt hopes collapse amid heated exchanges
Updated 16 June 2021

Lebanon govt hopes collapse amid heated exchanges

Lebanon govt hopes collapse amid heated exchanges
  • Aoun has demanded a third of all Cabinet seats, effectively giving his team veto power over government decisions

BEIRUT: Efforts to form a government and end the political stalemate gripping Lebanon reached a dead-end on Wednesday amid heated exchanges between President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

After Aoun’s political team, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), an ally of Hezbollah, announced that it had rejected Berri’s initiative to form a new government, the parliamentary speaker responded with a strongly worded statement accusing the Lebanese president of doing “what he has no constitutional right to do” by insisting on the blocking third in the government.

Aoun has demanded a third of all Cabinet seats, effectively giving his team veto power over government decisions.

Berri said that he had put forward the initiative “to help the Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri,” and accused Aoun of backing out of a pledge to support the formation of a new government.

“The president has no constitutional right to even one minister. He does not participate in voting, so how can he indirectly have votes?” Berri asked.

“The country is collapsing, institutions are deteriorating, and the people are suffering,” he added.

Addressing Aoun, the parliamentary speaker said: “You openly say that you do not want Hariri as prime minister. This is not your right; the decision to assign him is not yours, and the Parliament has voiced its decision loud and clear.”

In response, Aoun’s office issued a statement criticizing “statements and positions from various officials interfering in the process of forming a government.”

The statement also highlighted what it claimed were “abuses and direct targeting of the powers of the president.”

With hopes of a new government dashed, government and private sector trade unions called for a strike on Thursday to rescue Lebanon from the political deadlock and threat of economic collapse.

According to political observers, Aoun’s team prefers to keep the caretaker government in place to allow the country’s affairs to be run by the Baabda Palace and through the Supreme Defense Council, chaired by Aoun.

MP Mohammed Al-Hajjar told Arab News: “We are going through a very difficult stage. The president and the FPM do not value the constitution and are insisting on obstructing the formation of the government, taking the Lebanese people hostage for their personal interests.”

He said that it is clear Aoun and his political team want a government that is subject to their decisions until presidential elections are held.

Al-Hajjar said that Hezbollah “is standing idly by and this is unacceptable.”

He added that Hezbollah could “facilitate the formation of the government by putting pressure on its ally, but it has another agenda.”

Meanwhile, Charles Jabbour, head of the Lebanese Forces’ Media and Communication Service, said that while Hezbollah wants to protect its ally Aoun and his political team, the FPM is dissatisfied with Hezbollah’s position.

“This was revealed by direct statements made by FPM officials against Hezbollah,” he said.

Jabbour said that Hezbollah is “no longer a major force in this field. It is politically paralyzed and unable to do anything.”

However, he voiced concerns that the political impasse would worsen.

“There is a struggle over power and political positions, and cooperation with Aoun’s team is impossible,” he said.


Yemenis demand end to Houthi siege of Taiz as part of peace plans

Yemenis demand end to Houthi siege of Taiz as part of peace plans
Updated 16 June 2021

Yemenis demand end to Houthi siege of Taiz as part of peace plans

Yemenis demand end to Houthi siege of Taiz as part of peace plans
  • Residents of the besieged southern Yemeni city of Taiz and human rights activists said, the Houthis should stop their military operations and continued shelling of the city
  • Yemeni activist Abdullah Al-Sharabe: Ending the siege of Taiz unconditionally is the demand of all Yemenis, and no one opposes this human desire except the Houthis

ALEXANDRIA: Yemen human rights activists, politicians, journalists, and residents of Taiz have demanded that government and international mediators include the lifting of the city’s siege by Iran-backed Houthis in any peace initiative to end the war in the country.

Fearing being shut out of the current UN-brokered peace initiative that largely focused on Sanaa, residents of the besieged southern Yemeni city and human rights activists said the Houthis should stop their military operations and continued shelling of the city’s densely populated districts under any deal to bring the conflict to a close.

In a tweet as part of an online campaign to focus world attention on the Taiz siege, Yemeni activist Abdullah Al-Sharabe said: “Ending the siege of Taiz unconditionally is the demand of all Yemenis, and no one opposes this human desire except the Houthi criminals who imposed the siege.”

According to Yemeni and UN officials, and Western diplomats, the UN-brokered peace initiative calls for an immediate nationwide ceasefire, the reopening of Sanaa airport, the lifting of restrictions on Hodeidah port, and the resumption of peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis.

But Taiz residents claim too much focus has been placed on easing restrictions in Houthi-controlled areas without including the Houthi siege as one of the peace conditions.

However, UN Yemen envoy spokeswoman, Ismini Palla, told Arab News that the Houthis would lift their siege of Taiz at the same time as the warring factions put into place a ceasefire.

“The proposed nationwide ceasefire in that plan aims not only to halt all forms of fighting but also result in the opening of main roads connecting the country from north to south, including Taiz, for the free movement of civilians, commercial goods, and humanitarian aid,” she said.

The Yemeni government said it would not agree to any peace plan that did not include lifting the siege of Taiz and removing Houthi checkpoints from Yemeni cities.

“Opening roads, ensuring freedom of movement for citizens, and lifting the siege on cities, especially the city of Taiz, are among the basic issues that the government puts at the forefront of its priorities,” the Yemeni Foreign Ministry said.

Facing stiff resistance from army troops and resistance fighters in the city, the Houthis have imposed a siege on Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, since early 2015, in the process disrupting the distribution of vital humanitarian and medical assistance to thousands of hungry residents and turning a deaf ear to international calls to lift the blockade.

At the same time, the group has reportedly deployed snipers near its checkpoints to shoot any residents trying to enter or leave government-controlled areas of the city.

Speaking to Arab News from Taiz, Aqmar, a housewife, said people had been forced to use dangerous and unpaved roads to get food and medicines into the city and that the Houthi siege had pushed up transportation fares and exacerbated the suffering of the people.

“We travel only when there is an extreme necessity as bus fares are between 10,000 Yemeni rials ($40) and 15,000 rials per passenger,” she added.

She pointed out that over the years the siege had gone on, the Houthis had clamped down on freedoms of movement and that her sick grandmother who lived in a rural area outside of Taiz had died while on her way to the city to receive medical treatment.

Local rights groups claim Houthi shelling of the city has killed and wounded thousands of civilians over the past six years. Taiz Human Rights Center has put the civilian death toll from Houthi missile and artillery strikes at 1,462, including 443 children and 180 women, with 8,996 people left wounded.


Why Egypt’s Hamas policy changed after Israeli-Gaza conflict

Why Egypt’s Hamas policy changed after Israeli-Gaza conflict
Updated 16 June 2021

Why Egypt’s Hamas policy changed after Israeli-Gaza conflict

Why Egypt’s Hamas policy changed after Israeli-Gaza conflict
  • El-Sisi pledges half a billion dollars to rebuild besieged enclave after Cairo plays key role in brokering a ceasefire
  • Expert says country’s policy toward Gaza and official Egyptian relationship with Hamas are two different things

GAZA CITY: During the recent Israeli conflict with Gaza, a shift in Egyptian policy was evident in President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s pledge of half a billion dollars to rebuild the besieged enclave.
The unprecedented visit of the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel, to Gaza, as an official envoy of El-Sisi, came as a major indication of the change in Cairo’s policy toward Hamas. 
The relationship deteriorated following the overthrow of former Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013.
Egypt played a key role in brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas on May 21 following 11 days of cross-border fighting last month that left a trail of destruction with more than 250 dead and hundreds wounded. 
Cairo opened the Rafah crossing to dozens of Egyptian vehicles that entered Gaza to remove the rubble of destroyed buildings and pave the way for the reconstruction process. In addition, Cairo is also supplying goods to Gaza in light of strict Israeli restrictions.
However, Mukhaimer Abu Saada, professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, differentiates between the Egyptian policy toward Gaza and the official Egyptian relationship with Hamas.
He said Egypt’s role in Gaza is strategic due to the factors of history and geography. As for the country’s relationship with Hamas, it falls within the framework of “political tactics” to serve both sides.
Abu Saada believes the shift that appeared in the Egyptian policy toward Gaza rulers Hamas would not have taken place “without the green light from the US administration” following American President Joe Biden’s first phone call to El-Sisi. 
“Egypt and Hamas are beneficiaries of this transformation,” Abu Saada told Arab News. 
“Hamas, which has suffered greatly politically and financially after the years of estrangement that followed the overthrow of the late President Mursi, is keen to develop its relationship with the Egyptian regime.”
As for Egypt, Abu Saada said, it adheres to its position as a major regional player in the Palestinian arena, being the historical sponsor of Palestinian issues.
At the same time, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is not completely satisfied with the current Egyptian policy toward Gaza and the country’s openness to Hamas, he said, adding that this may be one of the main reasons behind the dialogue setback that was supposed to be launched in Cairo last Saturday.
“The PA, which has sought over the past four years to besiege Hamas politically and financially by imposing sanctions on Gaza, does not want Hamas to exploit the recent Israeli conflict in its favor through the Egyptian gate,” Abu Saada said.
Following Mursi’s ouster, the Hamas-Egypt ties deteriorated to the point that it was suggested in the Egyptian media that Hamas has supported the Salafists in Sinai and helped them carry out attacks in Cairo.
Ibrahim Al-Madhoun, a political analyst close to Hamas, believes that Egypt has a great opportunity to regain its regional weight. He also thinks Hamas is ready to identify with the Egyptian side if its demands are met, especially the lifting of the siege on Gaza and the cessation of Israeli attacks on Jerusalem.
Al-Madhoun does not see Egypt making a U-turn on Hamas, but he says it has raised the degree of its interest, concentration, and ability to move in vital files.
Hani Al-Basous, professor of political science and international relations, said the current Egyptian tactic with Hamas is based on recognizing it as a fait accompli. He said the Palestinian force has great weight, gained popular Arab momentum after the latest conflict, and it should be dealt with with new mechanisms and not with a new political orientation.