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UAE sets itself as the Gulf’s cybersecurity leader

Cybersecurity Pexels/Mikhail Nilov
Tools for cybercrime have become more sophisticated and an increasingly digital global economy requires precautions
  • 50,000 cyberattacks deterred daily
  • UAE launched cybersecurity strategies
  • Cybercriminals growing more sophisticated

As the world rushes toward a more digital future, cybersecurity remains a paramount concern – and the UAE aims to be at the forefront of the field.

The post-Covid era has experienced a surge in cyberattacks, prompting organisations to fortify their defences. Global weekly cyberattacks rose 7 percent in the first quarter of 2023, compared with the same period last year. 

Organisations were subject to an average of 1,248 attacks per week over the period, according to American-Israeli cybersecurity security solutions provider Check Point Software. 

And one out of every 31 organisations globally fell victim to weekly ransomware attacks, it says. 

The total cost of data breaches for Middle East organisations alone has reached $8 million in 2023, a 15 percent increase over the past three years, according to IBM Security’s Cost of a Data Breach Report

Deterring cyberattacks

The UAE aims to be the data hub for the Middle East by 2031, but the acceleration towards digital transformation has its challenges: daily, the country deters 50,000 cyberattacks, ranging from ransomware to cyber terrorism. 

“Ransomware campaigns have evolved to be more targeted on large enterprises for high returns,” explains Vibin Shaju, UAE general manager at Trellix, a US cybersecurity company.

“Threat actors behind these are well organised, funded and have access to advanced tools to evade disconnected cybersecurity implementations.”

The financial and critical infrastructure sectors have focused on improving their cybersecurity maturity for decades, says Shaju. 

“It is industries going through fast business transformation – such as education and real estate – where we are seeing some of the attacks have the biggest impact.”

The tactics employed have become more sophisticated, and cybercriminals now use legitimate tools for malicious activities. One example is the use of ChatGPT for code generation, enabling less-skilled players to launch cyberattacks effortlessly. 

The UAE government's head of cybersecurity Dr Mohammed Al Kuwaiti. The organisation says it is foiling 50,000 cyber attacks a dayWam
The UAE government’s head of cybersecurity Dr Mohammed Al Kuwaiti. The organisation says it is foiling 50,000 cyber attacks a day
Optimistic outlook

With the UAE government actively fostering artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation, cybersecurity is top of mind. 

It has launched both the National Cybersecurity Strategy and the Dubai Cybersecurity Strategy. The UAE Cyber Security Council has also introduced the Cyber Pulse initiative to promote awareness of and provide training on online threats and digital self-protection. 

Backed by such prominent government initiatives, large companies in the UAE are optimistic about their security. A study by British private security company G4S highlights that it anticipates fewer internal and external security threats compared with regional and global averages. 

G4S’s World Security Report says the companies plan to adopt advanced technologies such as biometrics, facial recognition and autonomous transportation for enhanced security.

Mohamed Kamal, G4S Middle East managing director, says the low levels of threats anticipated are testament to the UAE government’s steps to clamp down on cyberattacks and intellectual property theft.

“The planned use of a wide range of new technologies also puts the UAE in a good position to meet future challenges,” he adds.

Staying one step ahead

With its commitment to technological innovation and stringent cybersecurity measures, the UAE is poised to lead the region in safeguarding its digital landscape. 

However evolving threats require constant vigilance and adaptation to stay one step ahead of cyber adversaries. 

Traditional information security strategies and tools are no longer enough. Effective protection requires taking a new look at the tools and developing innovative approaches to cybersecurity.

“Malicious actors will look to identify vulnerabilities in the ever growing digital footprint,” says Abdul Rehman Tariq Butt, Middle East regional director at software company SolarWinds.

However, the UAE “has an enviable amount of home-grown talent that understands the importance of cybersecurity in the region,” he says.

“So it is safe to say we are in good hands.”

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