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UAE ransomware attacks decline but payout size grows

UAE Cyber Security Council chief Dr Mohamed Al Kuwaiti Intersec
UAE Cyber Security Council chief Dr Mohamed Al Kuwaiti said that AI 'adds complexity'
  • 61% drop across Middle East
  • Criminals and companies use AI
  • Victims with insurance pay up

Ransomware attacks in the UAE have declined significantly but the amount of money being demanded has risen, according to the Gulf state’s Cyber Security Council chief Dr Mohamed Al Kuwaiti.

Speaking at Intersec, the security and safety conference in Dubai, Dr Al Kuwaiti did not disclose specific numbers, but cybersecurity company Kaspersky has reported a 61 percent year-on-year drop in business-to-business ransomware detections across the Middle East in 2023.

“Many of the attacks are blocked earlier in the chain, for example by blocking a phishing email or a dropper malware attachment, resulting in the ransomware never making it to the endpoint,” Candid Wuest, vice president at data protection company Acronis, told AGBI.

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Experts warn that the size of ransomware payments has grown due to the widespread adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).

“The integration of AI adds complexity to cybersecurity,” said Dr Al Kuwaiti.

“This technology, once associated primarily with state and non-state actors, is now employed by a broader spectrum, including hacktivists.”

Dmitry Galov, senior security researcher at Kaspersky, observed that ransomware attacks have become more sophisticated and targeted, exposing victims to an increased number of threats.

Hackers are developing cross-platform ransomware, an approach that lets criminal gangs deploy the same software across different environments – and can also make incursions harder to detect, said Galov.

“It explains why it remains one of the most crucial business threats, despite the decreasing detection numbers.”

The financial implications of ransomware attacks are also staggering. 

According to cybersecurity company Trellix, a survey of 25 security leaders from companies with a minimum of 1,000 employees in the UAE found that those who had experienced a ransomware attack said they had paid out amounts ranging from $500,000 to $1,000,000.

Cyber risk insurance is becoming more common, so companies do not hesitate to meet the demands of cybercriminals, further exacerbating the problem,” Ram Narayan, country manager for Check Point Software Technologies said.

Contrary to the reported decrease in attacks, UK-based software security company Sophos data suggests that ransomware attacks have levelled off in the past couple of years, which may appear like a reduction compared to its prior meteoric rise.

“The reality is that almost three-quarters of attacks will be ransomware attacks and the remainder are often disrupted ransomware attacks,” said John Shier, chief technology officer at Sophos.

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