The rapid shift to remote work in 2020 has led to a shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals in the UAE.
But lucrative opportunities await those willing to take on larger roles, a new salary guide shows.
"The speed of digital transformation in the past 12 months is much more than the whole previous five years, and it's still accelerating," Tarek Kuzbari, regional director for Boston-based security company Cybereason, told The National.
This digital boom has opened opportunities for criminals to continue using age-old tactics, such as ransomware, malware and email fraud, Mr Kuzbari said.
This has led to a run on demand for cybersecurity architects, managers and engineers to battle these threats.
These roles can fetch monthly salaries of between Dh40,000 and Dh65,000 a month in the UAE, depending on the company, according to the Michael Page 2021 salary guide.
There is a shortage of locally based talent across the most in-demand skill sets, the recruitment company said.
It also recommended that employers focus on developing and training internal talent, and aim to be more flexible on sector and seller expertise when hiring for external locally based talent.
Some recruiters were concerned rising demand was inflating salaries and blurring job descriptions to attract people to open roles.
"There are lots of overpaid cybersecurity professionals who are not qualified for their job titles," said Iain Sachs, a recruiter for defence and technology companies in the UAE.
Mr Sachs likened it to the dot-com boom and bust of the late 1990s to early 2000s, "when salaries were going through the roof".
The National's UAE salary guide 2021
Part of this, he said, was that universities were not graduating students who were ready to be hired.
There was little way to prepare for the scope and scale of this level of threat online.
"Cyber security is a booming area already and people are hiring for this because they realise the threats are multiplying," Mr Sachs said.
"It's a gamekeeper and poacher dynamic. The gamekeeper is trying to keep the poacher out.
"Right now, we are going through a radical change of going fully digital. That comes with a whole new pile of threats.
"There are fewer qualified candidates for open jobs so people are landing in jobs they aren’t ready for."
He likened the cybersecurity jobs rush to the demand for digital marketing managers a decade ago.
People were being extremely well paid for that position "but now the universe has caught up, the market is flooded and the pay scales are course-correcting and dropping fast", he said.
Mr Sachs predicted this would happen to some parts of the cybersecurity sector.
There are already signs of a maturing market. Late last year, the UAE assembled a council on cyber security.
The council is developing laws to prosecute all types of cyber crimes, securing existing and emerging technology and establishing a robust National Cyber Incident Response Plan.
For those looking to break into technology security, engineers who specialise in safely moving data to cloud storage are among the most in demand, Michael Page said.
Many of the best candidates in this area are being lured to the big multinational tech retailers or a handful of the largest corporations because of the size and scope of the programmes those businesses are undertaking, leaving smaller or less specialised companies with fewer options to choose from.
Technology transformation experts, or those who can implement systems to help reduce operating costs and improve efficiency, are also in demand.
So are security consultants who bring with them experience in more mature markets, as a result of international security sellers entering the Middle East, Michael Page said.
"If anyone can afford to go through what will be a challenging period of lack of talent, it’s [the UAE]," Mr Sachs said.
"It’s an attractive place to come to work. If you’re facing a dark winter in Finland or Russia, it’ll always be attractive."