Saudi Arabia develops secure alternative to WhatsApp

Saudi Arabia develops secure alternative to WhatsApp
In this file photo taken on February 20, 2014 logo of WhatsApp is seen on a smartphone in New York. (AFP)
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Updated 05 September 2020

Saudi Arabia develops secure alternative to WhatsApp

Saudi Arabia develops secure alternative to WhatsApp
  • Saudi Vision 2030 underpins the importance of digitalization and cybersecurity and that this endeavor is in the pursuit of that program

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is developing a secure alternative to the short messaging service WhatsApp that will help ensure protection of confidential data.
The local messaging service will limit the Kingdom’s reliance on foreign companies and ensure that any confidential or sensitive data is safe on local servers.
A dedicated team of Saudi engineers and researchers at the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) is working on this project.
The instant message platform is expected to be ready in a year and will allow users to communicate in a secure environment as an alternative to Facebook’s WhatsApp and Tencent’s WeChat.
“This platform is being built on locally developed encrypted software and algorithms that will protect it from potential security vulnerabilities and help achieve the highest degree of security and privacy,” said Basil Al-Omair, director at the National Information Security Center at the KACST.
In a statement issued to the media, Al-Omair further said that the homegrown platform will also guarantee a safe exchange of both text and voice communications.
“The advantage of the app, designed by the all-Saudi workforce, is that it is free from external servers controlled by foreign agencies and will hence ensure confidentiality,” he added.
They are currently targeting government agencies, institutions and companies, and not the average user, he said.

The advantage of the app, designed by the all-Saudi workforce, is that it is free from external servers controlled by foreign agencies and will hence ensure confidentiality.

Basil Al-Omair, Director at the National Information Security Centre at the KACST

Speaking to Arab News, Mohammed Khurram Khan, a professor of cybersecurity at the King Saud University in Riyadh, said: “It is indeed a great initiative taken by the KACST to develop an indigenous platform for secured file transfer and multimedia communication, which would have a multitude of benefits.”
He added: “It may create new job opportunities for local talent, develop intellectual property, provide homegrown secure application to public and private sector organizations, and offer bilingual communication interfaces for native users.”
In addition, its local development will ensure that it is free from any security backdoors and loopholes that allow hackers to perform cyberattacks, added Khan, who is also the founder and CEO of Global Foundation for Cyber Studies & Research in Washington, DC.
“This application will harness military-grade security for the confidentiality and integrity of communication and will provide end-to-end encryption for the private exchange of data,” he said.
He added that Saudi Vision 2030 underpins the importance of digitalization and cybersecurity and that this endeavor is in the pursuit of that program.
“Once this platform is successfully implemented and tested, it could be exported to generate revenue and boost the national economy,” said Khan.
The platform, he added, could be made scalable and may integrate with other services to provide additional functionalities, such as securing payment of bills, tickets and money transfer.


Who’s Who: Meshaal bin Omairah, CEO of Abdullah Al-Othaim Investment Co.

Who’s Who: Meshaal bin Omairah, CEO of Abdullah Al-Othaim Investment Co.
Updated 7 min 29 sec ago

Who’s Who: Meshaal bin Omairah, CEO of Abdullah Al-Othaim Investment Co.

Who’s Who: Meshaal bin Omairah, CEO of Abdullah Al-Othaim Investment Co.

Meshaal bin Omairah was recently appointed as chief executive officer of Abdullah Al-Othaim Investment Co.

A financial expert with more than 25 years of experience in multinational and multidivisional companies, he also has specialist business skills in motivational etiquette, organization, analytics, and time management.

In addition, as a management professional his areas of knowledge include organizational development, corporate governance (strategic and financial), capital and funding optimization, financial engineering and restructuring, corporate risk assessment, and consultancy.

Bin Omairah has been a member of the Saudi Fisheries Co.’s audit committee since December 2017, and chairman of the audit and risk committee at Aljazierah Home Appliances since November 2018.

He previously served as chairman of the audit and risk committee and a member of the board of directors at both Rajhi Steel and the Global Beverage Co.

He has sat on the board of Manafea Holding since 2018 and is chairman of the company’s audit committee, and was CEO and a board member of Mohammed Abdul Aziz Al-Rajhi and Sons Investment Co.

Since January 2018, he has been an advisory board member at Bank Muscat and has been vice chairman and a member of the board of directors at Falcon Plastic Products Co. since September 2016.

Other board memberships and audit and executive committee roles held by Bin Omairah have been at the Benaa company for building materials, Jesco, Ardiseis, Sanjel International Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Geophysical and Surveying Co., and Air Liquide Arabia LLC.

He gained a bachelor’s degree in accounting from King Saud University and certificates in corporate governance and global management via INSEAD.


Saudi Arabia, US committed to addressing climate challenge with urgency: Joint statement

Saudi Arabia, US committed to addressing climate challenge with urgency: Joint statement
Updated 16 June 2021

Saudi Arabia, US committed to addressing climate challenge with urgency: Joint statement

Saudi Arabia, US committed to addressing climate challenge with urgency: Joint statement
  • The joint statement came after the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry visited the Kingdom
  • The two countries will work to strengthen the implementation of the Paris Agreement

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and the US are committed to addressing the increasing climate challenge with “seriousness and urgency,” a joint statement said on Wednesday.
The two countries will work to strengthen the implementation of the Paris Agreement and actively promote a successful G20 in Italy and UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow.
They also affirmed the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking action during the 2020s to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
The joint statement came after the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry visited the Kingdom where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia and the US said they intended to work together to actively support and engage bilaterally on the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative, including on clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and land use.
The countries will also collaborate on accelerating the deployment of renewable energy and low-emissions power systems in the region, encourage private sector partnerships, and support ocean-based and nature-based solutions for addressing both mitigation and adaptation.
The two sides also aim to cooperate on the potential of clean hydrogen to address the hardest to abate sectors and to partner to accelerate clean hydrogen’s development and deployment.


GCC foreign ministers: Iran missile program should be addressed in nuclear talks

GCC foreign ministers: Iran missile program should be addressed in nuclear talks
Updated 16 June 2021

GCC foreign ministers: Iran missile program should be addressed in nuclear talks

GCC foreign ministers: Iran missile program should be addressed in nuclear talks

RIYADH: Talks in Vienna on the Iran nuclear deal should take into consideration Tehran’s ballistic missile program, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers said on Wednesday.
GCC countries should also be included in the dialogue, a meeting of the ministerial council in Riyadh heard.
The foreign ministers condemned Tehran for smuggling weapons to its proxy militia in Yemen - the Houthis. And they denounced attacks carried out by the militia in Yemen’s Marib province.
They also condemned the Houthis for obstructing the arrival of an international team to examine the decaying FSO Safer tanker that is moored off Yemen’s coast.
The tanker was abandoned more than five years ago and its structure, equipment and operating systems are deteriorating, leaving the tanker at risk of leaking, exploding or catching fire.
With 48 million gallons of oil on board, the UN warns a potential leak would be four times bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska, considered the world’s worst oil spill in terms of environmental damage.
The foreign ministers also said they reject foreign interference in the affairs of Arab countries and any actions that affect the water rights of Egypt and Sudan.
They also condemned the increase of drug smuggling from Lebanon after the Kingdom banned the import and transit of fruit and vegetables from the crisis-stricken country after authorities foiled two large drug smuggling attempts in April.


Saudi Arabia announces 15 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 15 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 16 June 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 15 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 15 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 451,187
  • A total of 7,621 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 15 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,239 new infections on Wednesday.
Of the new cases, 371 were recorded in Makkah, 253 in Riyadh, 229 in the Eastern Province, 98 in Asir, 83 in Jazan, 71 in Madinah, 32 in Najran, 17 in Al-Baha, 17 in Hail, 10 in the Northern Borders region, nine in Tabuk, and five in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 451,187 after 932 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 7,621 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 16.1 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same

US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same
Updated 17 min 37 sec ago

US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same

US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same
  • Kerry says what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has put forward as a concept is “both challenging and exciting at the same time”
  • American diplomat is seeking to increase climate ambition in the lead-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in November

RIYADH: US climate envoy John Kerry has praised the Saudi Green Initiative as “a very important step,” adding that it is “the kind of initiative we that we need on a global basis — planting trees, beginning to move to different kinds of innovative solutions that reduce the level of emissions, to deal with waste more effectively.”

Aimed at reversing environmental degradation and climate change, the combination of the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April. The step has put the Kingdom at the heart of regional efforts to meet international targets on environmental projects.

“I think it’s an extremely important initiative, together with the Middle East Green Initiative, when you put them together,” Kerry said during a special interview with Arab News in Riyadh on Wednesday.

The former top US diplomat was in Abu Dhabi en route to Riyadh, his second visit to the UAE capital where attended the first Regional Dialogue Conference on Climate Change in April. That conference focused on preparations for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), to be held later this year to accelerate efforts to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Referring to the participants - “11 different mostly producer countries including Morocco, Iraq, Egypt and others – he said: “They are all committed to moving in this direction. Now what we need to do is harmonize the global understanding of the goals and the different standards that are being applied to ‘green’ and the definition of ‘green’ and so forth.

Arab News Assistant Editor in Chief, Noor Nugali, (L) and US climate envoy John Kerry.
 

“But we could do these things and that’s my mission as special envoy to help us to stay focused as we move to Glasgow, where the world will come together as we did in Paris and renew ambition. We have to raise our ambition to get this job done, and I think the Green initiative is a good step towards helping to do that.”

For months now, Kerry has been crisscrossing the globe, meeting heads of government, kings, crown princes and ministers and senior officials, seeking to increase ambition in the lead-up to the COP26, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

Kerry’s latest foray into the Middle East brought him to Riyadh on Tuesday for talks with Saudi ministers, officials and CEOs on the gamut of climate-related issues.

He said his meeting with Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz included “the whole group of CEOs who are leading different initiatives in different sectors of the economy to begin to ‘green’ the way we are doing things.”

“We had a very good series of meetings that covered everything possible. Also, Prince Abdul Aziz pulled together his experts and we spent a lot of time really going through every aspect of what Saudi Arabia is doing currently and what it can and will do,” he added.

Arab News Assistant Editor in Chief, Noor Nugali, (L) and US climate envoy John Kerry.

Kerry said he was “very impressed by the depth of the (Saudi) analyses and the commitment going forward, which clearly is beginning to grapple in a serious way with this challenge,” acknowledged that “it’s a big challenge and getting more urgent,” and added that President Biden is “equally committed to moving forward.”

“We believe that Saudi Arabia could be one of the principal agents of change because Saudi Arabia has such an extraordinary opportunity with solar and green hydrogen and the possibility is very real,” Kerry said.

Among the goals of the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative are cutting carbon dioxide emissions in the region by 60 percent; using renewables to produce 50 percent of the Kingdom’s energy by 2030; and eliminating more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions using clean hydrocarbon technology.

“I think what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman put forward as a concept is in fact both challenging and exciting at the same time, and has the ability to speed up the transition for all of us by providing alternative fuel,” Kerry said, who met with the Crown Prince later on Wednesday to discuss international efforts to combat climate change and Saudi Arabia’s initiatives in this regard.

“Many people in the world are looking for the hydrogen solution now, and I am, I think that out of our meetings has come a commitment to work together to try to accelerate that, so I am very hopeful.”

Arab News Assistant Editor in Chief, Noor Nugali, (L) and US climate envoy John Kerry.

The administration of Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement but President Biden signed an executive order to have the US rejoin the Paris climate agreement within hours of being sworn in in January. The policy U-turns have prompted some questioning about the future consistency of America’s own climate policy.

But Kerry dismissed such concerns emphatically. “No, absolutely not and I will tell you why not. The reason is that the private sector is moving in an extraordinary way all across the planet and trillions of dollars are going to be invested in this transition,” he said.

“We have six major banks in the US that have committed about $4.16 trillion over the next 10 years for climate investment. That’s without even getting to the development banks or the asset managers. And thanks to the work of a number of people around the world who are helping to put together an alliance, there are many other financial institutions in other countries that are completely committed to the same goal — net zero by 2050 or earlier.”

Explaining why the policy clock cannot be put back, Kerry said: “I believe there’s so much technology, innovation and so much new product development and new fuel development, the marketplace is going to be a powerful force that no politician in any one country is going to be able to change that. They wouldn’t want to because it is going to be millions of jobs for our citizens even as it transitions the world to sustainable and renewable energy sources.” 

Kerry said the same logic applies “with respect to carbon obviously because a place like Saudi Arabia is a producer which is deeply concerned.”

“As long as the emissions are going down at the rate we need to, as long as we are able to even capture those emissions and put them to use in one way or another, then there will be a combination of different approaches and different fuels,” he told Arab News.

“So I think the future is really very, very promising. This is the biggest economic transformation facing all of us since the Industrial Revolution and I think it’s filled with opportunity. Whoever discovers battery storage of two weeks or one week, or whoever is the person, or country or company that comes up with a way to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, store it or put it to use, they are going to make a lot of money because these are things the whole world needs, and will want.”

The UN has warned that nations must redouble their climate efforts if they are to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise by 2C - ideally 1.5C - by the end of the century. Climate science has called for a transformation that must start early and result in deep emission reductions even before 2030. 

However, developing countries want richer countries to make good on their Paris negotiations pledges to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private financing to aid the energy-transition effort. Kerry said progress has been made on this contentious issue.

“About $81 billion of the total $100 billion is now accountable. It is not just direct giving of the money but it is also mobilizing money so you can push some of the development banks or you can bring other people to the table and mobilize a certain amount of money,” he said.

“We have to get there. It is very, very important for the developed world to produce the $100 billion that has been promised and we are already working very hard on it. I have talked personally to President Biden about it and he is well aware of it. It was discussed at the G7 (summit held over the weekend in Cornwall in the UK). In the next four months, it is critical for us to bring it together and get the job done.”

Kerry is confident that funds can be found for the necessary energy transitions by the governments that were compelled to respond with significant monetary and fiscal policy changes to limit the COVID-19 pandemic’s shock to the economy.

“Some of the money will have to come from countries, because we need money that is what we call ‘concessionary money,’ money that is there to though public budget to help pay for things that the private sector will not be interested in doing because it does not have a return on investment,” he said.

“But the vast majority of this money is going to come from the private sector all around the world because they have the money to invest and because the different sectors of our economy produce products such as in transportation. If you have a train or a high-speed rail or a clean public transport, those are areas where you have revenue. And if you have revenue, then you have the ability to be able to attract investment. 

“The same is true for energy use. People will pay for the energy they use for their air conditioning, for their heating, for their lights and so that’s a revenue stream. That means you can actually invest in that and make some money so the private sector will see economic opportunity in many of the choices that we need to make and that’s why those banks I talked about put $4.16 trillion on the table. 

“There will be more than that, much more than that, around the world. And that’s what’s going to drive this — the ability of people to seek solutions, through technologies and individual use, products that people use and are willing to pay for.”