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UAE bolsters cyber defences to keep hackers at bay

Collaboration with other countries is key to building a safe digital economy, according to Dr Mohamed Al Kuwaiti, the UAE government’s head of cyber security.

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Wed, 19 Jan 2022
UAE bolsters cyber defences to keep hackers at bay
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In an interview with The National News, Dr Mohamed Al Kuwaiti, the UAE government's head of cyber security, revealed that the UAE is working hard to build a safe digital economy with highly secure and robust cloud infrastructure.

"The UAE’s key to success is collaboration with several countries to shore up its digital ecosystem and information technology infrastructure.

“We have state-of-the-art advanced cloud ecosystems that allow all businesses at different scales and government enterprises to seamlessly conduct their business here from the UAE,” Dr Al Kuwaiti said.


Dr Al Kuwaiti was speaking on the sidelines of Intersec, a global emergency services, security and safety event that is taking place at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

"The UAE, like other nations, is going through digital transformations, which increase the dependency on technologies, and there are more and more, which opens a larger threat landscape.

"We are applying the latest cyber security technology and support big or small businesses with top-class experts from the private sector to help them if they are targeted by cyber criminals," Dr Al Kuwaiti said.

Dr Al Kuwaiti added that Intersec was a great way to explore the latest technology and innovative solutions to complex digital problems and network with cyber security experts from around the world.

"We are providing investors from around the world [with] multiple platforms such as this conference, which helps us to cooperate and work with others to enhance our cyber security, which is not one country’s problem.

"One key reason why cyber crime and ransomware attacks, in particular, are rising is that most people just view it as someone else’s problem," Dr Al Kuwaiti said.

Ransomware has emerged as the biggest threat to cyber security in recent years. It allows criminal hackers to disable an organisation’s computer system and hold its data hostage, demanding a ransom to decrypt it.

There is no accurate data that shows the exact number of such attacks as many of these might have gone unreported, with victims paying the cyber criminals.

According to New York-based research company Cybersecurity Ventures, cyber criminals are expected to attack a business, consumer or device every two seconds by 2031.

The data revealed the ransomware damages cost the world about $20 billion, which is 57 times more than in 2015 at $325 million, with the company predicting ransomware will cost its victims about $265 billion by 2031.

This year’s message at the Intersec conference is pushing how to help various partners face wide-ranging digital disruptions and shore up their systems against potential vulnerabilities, according to Alex Nicholl, head of the Intersec conference.

"We have been holding Intersec for 23 years and this is the first year we put a real emphasis on cyber security.

"We are providing a platform that brings together a diverse group of experts from the public and private cyber security sectors, cyber economists and ethical hackers," Nicholl said.

"We have also partnered, for the first time, with the UAE Cyber Security Council and plan to reinforce this partnership."

The supply chain attacks

When hackers leave a message on a computer about how to contact them to decrypt locked data, one has little choice unless they have a solid backup system, according to Dr Al Kuwaiti, who holds a doctorate in computer engineering and network security from George Washington University.

Dr Al Kuwaiti noted that most of the cyber attacks in the UAE fall under the fraud, impersonation and data-theft categories.

"If you have a solid backup system of your data, along with a cyber security framework and cyber security posters, then you do not need to negotiate with those ransomware criminals.

"A company has to run a risk assessment, as well to figure out the cost of losing such data against the ransom money," Dr Al Kuwaiti said.

One of the key speakers at Intersec, ethical hacker Freaky Clown explained that criminals are aware that the big companies and entities have great defences.

"It is a great cause for concern because the ripple effects that can be triggered by a single attack, in particular, can comprise the cyber security of others in the supply chain," the hacker said.

At the end of the day, it depends on the decision by the board members of this or that company – the recommendation is not to negotiate and it is not mandatory, according to Dr Al Kuwaiti.

"The cyber attacks increased by at least 200 per cent last year, compared to 2020 in the UAE and are topped by ransomware, email phishing, ddos [denial of service] and impersonation," Dr Al Kuwaiti concluded.

[Related: DHL named most frequently imitated brand by hackers running phishing scams]

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