Oil major Saudi Aramco and US-based defence firm Raytheon will form a joint venture for cyber-security services in the kingdom and the region.
The JV will develop and provide integrated defensive cyber-security software and hardware capabilities, according to Aramco. The JV will increase cyber-security protection available to Saudi Aramco, its suppliers, customers and affiliates.
"Demand for cyber-security services is expected to grow as companies move further into the digital space and embrace technologies such as Internet of Things and big data," Khalid Al-Dabbagh, Saudi Aramco's senior vice president of finance, strategy and development, said. "The partnership with Raytheon will help strengthen cyber-security and enhance its infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the broader region.”
Oil and gas firms in the Middle East have become increasingly wary of external and internal threats to their data and operations following a wave of cyber attacks against their facilities, notably in 2012 and 2013. Cyber attacks in 48 per cent of the Middle East and Africa companies resulted in damage worth more than $500,000 (Dh1.83 million), while 58 per cent of the businesses had to manage an outage of more than five hours due to a breach, according to the Cisco 2018 Security Capabilities Benchmark Study.
Six years ago Aramco, which accounts for 12.9 per cent of global crude output, was the victim of a high-profile cyber attack from the so-called Shamoon virus that wiped out data on 30,000 computers. The attacks are believed to have been carried out by Iran, though Tehran has denied culpability.
The JV between Saudi Aramco and Raytheon Saudi Arabia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Raytheon based in Riyadh, comes after an agreement between the Raytheon unit and Saudi Arabia Military Industries, or SAMI, covering programmes for local manufacturing in precision munitions, air and missile defence and cyber defence.
These agreements are part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 plan to create high-skilled jobs for Saudis and develop tech know-how as the kingdom overhauls the economy to reduce its reliance on oil.
The JV also builds on a series of agreements announced by the kingdom and major US corporations following a visit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the US earlier this year and US President Donald Trump's visit to Riyadh last year.
At the Saudi-US Forum in New York in March, Saudi Arabia’s US embassy said the kingdom had signed 36 memorandums of understanding, worth more than $20 billion in new business partnerships.
The preliminary agreements include a partnership between Alphabet's Google and Saudi Aramco for national cloud services.
The high incidence of cyber attacks in the region is creating opportunities for global cyber-security companies.
The level of protection against external attackers was assessed as "extremely low" for 43 per cent of Middle Eastern companies, which may assist a rise in attacks, according to a report released by Kaspersky Lab.
“Cyber-security is critical to national and global security,” Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon intelligence, information and services, said. “This memorandum of understanding is an important step in creating a joint venture that we see becoming the cornerstone of cyber-security defences in the region.”