Alabbar’s Digital Revolution Needs An Adequate Cybersecurity Strategy

As if there isn’t enough evidence already to support the alarming need for a better cybersecurity strategy across the GCC’s digital landscape, the recently revealed cyberattack against Saudi Arabia is a stark reminder about the cyber threats the region is facing today.

A destructive hack crippled 5 government agencies in Saudi Arabia, replicating a similar exploit that targeted Aramco in 2012. The attack parallels the destructive effects of Shamoon, the virus that erased banks of data and turned thousands of workstations obsolete. In this case, the prime target was none other than the agency running the country’s airports, with several additional agencies still unnamed.

This is a reminder that, in a region set on re-inventing itself through a digital revolution, the risks are as great as the ambitions powering it. A man in particular, should be carefully following the latest developments in the cybersecurity realm, and that man is Mohamed Alabbar. With the upcoming launch of the e-commerce giant Noon, and the unveiling of new massive digital initiatives across the digital spectrum, the appeal for hackers to target the region becomes all too real.

Cybersecurity is not a buzzword you hear during keynote addresses of tech giants in the Middle East. Beyond the generic “We are committed to our user’s privacy and data security”, the public is unaware of any substantial cybersecurity initiatives that digital tycoons are putting in play. In an attempt to grow fast enough to capture market share, or live up to the expectations built through massive marketing campaigns, cybersecurity can often be seen as an unnecessary friction, a luxury that can be thought of at a later stage. The level of vulnerability of our digital ecosystem in the UAE and the greater GCC is a testament to the efforts, or lack thereof, that are being invested in securing this rapidly growing digital landscape. To make things worst, companies have little incentive to disclose publicly the nature of attacks they are victim of, let alone share with the community data and information that my be helpful in thwarting similar attacks on other private or public sector operators.

The launch of billion dollar digital ventures in the Middle East will put the region on the map, but as much as it will draw awe and respect from global tech players, it will also draw the attention of hackers whose cost benefit analysis will tilt more on the benefit side given the scale of the ventures being rolled out. The world is getting more interconnected than ever, our reliance on the Internet of Things, e-services and open-kimono permission apps means that we are, as a result, as vulnerable.

If Noon.com and other massive digital enterprises are to succeed and live up to the scale they were marketed to be, spending more on cybersecurity, acknowledging the threats and building a better framework amongst private and public sectors for better co-ordination, information exchange and disclosures will be key to making this region a digital success story.

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