Malware attacks in Middle East jump 17% to 161 million in first half of 2021

The region has become a target for cyber criminals amid a rise in remote working and rapid digital transformation, Kaspersky says

Victims of cyber crime worldwide lose $318 billion each year, UK technology comparison website Comparitech has found. EPA
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Malware attacks in the Middle East increased almost 17 per cent on an annual basis to 161 million in the first half of this year amid a rapid digital transformation of the region, a new report has found.

Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt and Qatar are among the countries that have reported a sharp rise in malware attacks, cybersecurity company Kaspersky said in the report.

Oman recorded the biggest increase of attacks at 67 per cent, followed by Kuwait (64 per cent), Bahrain (45 per cent), Egypt (32 per cent) and Qatar (16 per cent). But the UAE – the second biggest Arab economy – recorded a mere 7 per cent rise in attacks.

Malware is malicious software designed by cyber criminals to damage a computer, server or an entire online network.

It can get into a device in several ways, including by a user clicking on an infected link or advertisement, opening an attachment in a spam email or by downloading a malicious app.

The Middle East has become a target for cyber criminals amid a rise in remote working owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and rapid digital transformation of the region's economies, according to the Moscow-based company, which did not disclose the methodology of its report.

Cyber criminals are trying to exploit the “lack of user education or cyber security understanding”, said Maher Yamout, senior security researcher for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Kaspersky.

“Even though the scourge of malware has always been of concern, the past 12 months have highlighted how hackers are refocusing their efforts to compromise consumer and corporate systems and gain access to critical data and information," he said.

Turkey, which registered 44 million malware attacks between January and June – nearly a quarter of all malware attacks in the region. It recorded a drop of 4.4 per cent in the first six months of the year.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, registered 42 million attacks, the UAE (34 million), Oman (14 million), Kuwait (11 million) and Bahrain (five million), the report found.

Victims of cyber crime worldwide lose $318 billion each year, according to UK technology comparison website Comparitech.

About 71.1 million people in the world fall victim to cyber crime annually – which equates to nearly 900 victims for every 100,000 people. The average victim’s loss is $4,476 for every cyber crime, Comparitech found.

Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai is among the recent victims of cyber criminals in the region. The hospital has started an investigation after hackers targeted some of its servers, it said on Monday.

Hackers have become more targeted with their attack strategies, focusing on advanced persistent threat-type attacks that are intended to steal sensitive data, Kaspersky said.

With so many people working remotely and accessing corporate networks from their personal devices, the companies must identify the rapidly expanding attack surface, Mr Yamout said.

“These devices might not have an adequate level of protection, meaning that once they are compromised and an employee logs into the network, hackers can potentially get access to sensitive data and cripple the organisation," he said.

Updated: August 17, 2021, 4:00 PM