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Thu 13 Oct 2016 04:24 PM

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Middle East cyber threats prompt tomorrow's global next generation initiatives

Middle East region suffered larger losses last year than the rest of the world as a result of cyber incidents

Middle East cyber threats prompt tomorrow's global next generation initiatives

The Middle East exists at the margin between a prosperous future and valuable national assets.

It finds itself with the burden of servicing the world’s energy needs while simultaneously defining the next generation of innovation and technology globally, all the while playing host to a concentration of complicated geo-political allies, adversaries and relationships. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Middle East is not immune to cyber attacks.

In fact, according to a recent report from PwC, companies polled in the Middle East region suffered larger losses than the rest of the world last year as a result of cyber incidents: 56 per cent of respondents lost more than US$ 500,000 compared to 33 per cent globally; while 13 per cent lost at least three working days, compared to nine per cent. The PwC report goes on to highlight that businesses in the Middle East are also more likely to have suffered a cyber breach, compared to the rest of the world (85 per cent of respondents compared to a global average of 79 per cent), with 18 per cent of respondents in the region having experienced more than 5,000 attacks, which is higher than any other region, and compares to a global average of only nine per cent.

Many of the countries and nation states in the Middle East are actively focused on cyber security solutions and developing initiatives to combat regional and global threats. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait have been some of the most vocal and advanced in developing programs to date, but all countries in the region have spent considerable time and energy to protect their data and security.

Given the region’s geo-political dynamics, many of the next generation initiatives focus on achieving national scale to provide a wider distribution of protection.  For example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is embarking on a project to demonstrate that privacy does not need to suffer at the hands of stronger security as a result of its mandated national identification system. UAE residents may soon be able obtain derived credentials from their national Emirates ID (EID) through a trusted third party, in a process that is verifiable and audited.

Subscribers can choose to use their raw EID, or substitute it with a derived credential from trusted third-party vendors, which can be generated with varying levels of access. These derived public key infrastructure (PKI) credentials offer a win-win-win situation; the UAE Government can rely on raw EID where it’s required, and facilitate strong security for the entire nation; commercial enterprises can benefit from strong ID assurance through derived credentials without the ability to track users; and users can protect their privacy to the level they are comfortable with, but still have access to e-Government services where law mandates they use their EID.

While many Western states have not embraced the concept of mandated national IDs at this stage, it is a daily reality across many parts of the Middle East and some of the benefits and lessons from the program may serve to inform future policies in the West.

Other next generation initiatives in the Middle East include Resilient Smart Governments, where in the UAE a resiliency model has been developed that showcases and informs authorities of the interrelated impact of a cyber security breach; and a National Security Operations Center, from which Federal and Municipal authorities are able to assume a pro-active stance to cyber security, bringing their digital assets into a life-cycle encompassing planning, detection, protection, and recovery.

Cyber security threats play an expanding role in the Middle East and lessons learned from combatting them today may well shape policies in Western countries and the rest of the world tomorrow. The region is a microcosm of the battle playing out digitally and cyber security initiatives taking place there, while in their infancy, are great examples of innovation necessary to combat the world’s foremost hackers.

About the author: Stephen Brennan is Senior Vice President of Cyber Network Defence at DarkMatter. He has developed, led and delivered cyber solutions in over 160 countries on six continents.

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