UAE sees 24% drop in smartphone cyber attacks in Q1 of 2020

Users were vigilant amid the coronavirus pandemic that led to a drop in cyber attacks, says Kaspersky

The number of cyber attacks targetted at smartphones in the UAE dropped 24.3 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020 and users remained increasingly cautious as they continued to work remotely to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Smartphone users in the country encountered 39,828 attacks in the three months to March 31, nearly 12,779 less than the same period last year, Moscow-based cyber security company Kaspersky said on Sunday.

“It is great to see that UAE smartphone owners remained vigilant during the [Covid-19] crisis and did not fall for scammers’ tricks,” Victor Chebyshev, security expert at Kaspersky, said. The monthly rate remained steady in April and May as people shifted to remote working.

“Every system has a vulnerability, but human factor is often considered the greatest of them … seeing that there is no [comparative] increase in attacks during a shift to work from home and global pandemic is reassuring.”

In April and May, the UAE tackled 28,235 smartphone attacks bringing the total to 68,063 in the first five months of this year, Kaspersky said without providing a comparative figure for the same period last year.

The UAE, the second-biggest Arab economy, is a key market for smartphone manufacturers due to its extensive internet penetration.


A November 2018 YouGov survey found that nine in 10 respondents in the UAE own a smartphone, with 70 per cent of those without a smartphone planning to buy one.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, experienced 220,000 attacks in the first five months of 2020. Saudi Arabia, the region’s largest economy, witnessed 160,000 attacks during the period.

The UAE was followed by Kuwait and Oman, with 20,000 and 15,000 attacks respectively during the five-month period.

As the influence of mobile platforms surges, the role of smartphones in business processes and day-to-day life is growing rapidly, Kaspersky said.

“Cyber criminals are also paying more attention to how they are distributing malware and increasing their activity in this time of crisis.”

The company cautioned that in order to protect smartphones from cyber attacks, users should install applications only from official app stores, such as Google Play on Android devices and the App Store on iPhones.

Smartphone users should also install system and application updates as soon as possible to automatically patch vulnerabilities and keep devices protected.

Users should block the installation of programmes from unknown sources in their smartphone settings and shouldn't bypass device restrictions as this "might provide cyber criminals with limitless capabilities to carry out their attacks", the firm said.

Gulf countries continue to be attractive to cyber criminals, thanks to their growing digital footprint.

The average cost of data breaches in the UAE and Saudi Arabia was $5.9 million (Dh21.65m) in 2019, a 12.4 per cent year-on-year increase, according to a report by IBM Security. This is second only to the US, which has the highest total average cost per data breach of $8.19m.