Ransomware attacks in the UAE down by more than 70% on greater international co-operation

The government has boosted collaboration with global entities, most notably Interpol, UAE cyber security chief Mohamed Al Kuwaiti says

Mohamed Al Kuwaiti said international co-operation boosted the UAE's efforts to protect its cyber space. Alvin R Cabral / The National
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Ransomware attacks in the UAE declined more than 70 per cent at the start of 2023, compared with the same period a year ago, the government's cyber security chief has said.

The figure is also the same rate of decline as at the start of 2021, with the government boosting co-operation with international entities, most notably Interpol, to protect the country's cyber space, Mohamed Al Kuwaiti said.

“Everything is moving towards technology and that is great for humanity, services and communities,” he told The National on the sidelines of the Palo Alto Networks Ignite conference in Dubai on Thursday.

“But it opens vulnerabilities as is always the case in most of those technologies.”

“We have great KPIs [key performance indicators] and SOPs [standard operating procedures], so we can react swiftly and quickly,” Mr Al Kuwaiti said.

Cyber attacks continue to become more sophisticated and advanced, especially in today's digital age in which hackers focus on unsuspecting users who are immersed in technology more than ever.

In particular, ransomware — a type of malicious software that takes over a system and demands a payment for it to be restored — continues to grow, compared with 10 years ago.

Ransomware operators have grown from small hacker groups to entire corporations, software company Group-IB said in a recent report.

The manufacturing sector will remain the biggest target, followed by property, professional services, transport and finance, while the US will remain the country where most companies are attacked, it said.

Against industrial organisations, attacks surged by 87 per cent annually in 2022, with manufacturing entities still the most frequent victims, cyber security firm Dragos said in a February report.

Mr Al Kuwaiti said the UAE's collaboration with Interpol and other international agencies had helped to bring more expertise to protect the country's cyber space, showing that “this is where the power of partnership really comes … and transparency”.

“We achieved the success that we needed, stopping attacks from harming some of the UAE's infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, in the UAE, more than one in two chief executives, or 53 per cent, said their potential financial losses in the event of a significant attack had increased in the past 12 months, Palo Alto Networks said in a study released at Ignite.

Everything is moving towards technology, and that is great for humanity, services and communities. But it opens vulnerabilities as is always the case in most of those technologies
Mohamed Al Kuwaiti, UAE government's head of cyber security

About 86 per cent of respondents claimed to have a good understanding of cyber security while 41 per cent said they have not done a full assessment of their potential financial loss, the survey of 500 chief executives showed.

“It is vital that chief executives and chief information officers work more closely than ever to evaluate risks and take steps to ensure that they have the very best cyber security platforms,” said Ercan Aydin, a vice president at California-based Palo Alto Networks.

Additionally, 56 per cent of those surveyed said cyber security was a bigger risk than economic uncertainty, while 60 per cent agreed that it was a bigger risk than their competitors.

More than half of UAE organisations review their cyber security policies, procedures and technology either every two to three weeks or monthly to ensure legal and regulatory compliance, it said.

Training for top-level officials at UAE companies remained low. While 29 per cent of UAE companies offer training and education to their chief executives and the rest of their top brass, only half offer optional training while 21 per cent offer none at all, Palo Alto Networks said.

However, amid the occurrence of cyber attacks, the Middle East and Africa remains resilient to these, Helmut Reisinger, Palo Alto Networks' chief executive for Europe, the Mena region and Latin America, said at the event.

He cited the region's strong economic growth, improved cyber awareness and the investments being made as key to protecting critical infrastructure.

The use of artificial intelligence and automation technology is considered to be “the answer to support better IT security”, he said.

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Updated: March 13, 2023, 7:09 AM