As pandemic continue to accelerate the pace of digital transformation in the Middle East it is only to be expected that volume of cyberattacks should be even more increasing in the region. Hence the last couple of years have been nothing short of extraordinary for cybersecurity. The COVID-19 induced pandemic has permanently changed how business is done, and cybercriminals induced pandemic has permanently changed how business is done, and cybercriminals are increasingly using a variety of new exploits and attack strategies.
“The cybersecurity landscape in Middle East is dynamic, and we are seeing that threat actors are leaning on new tools and techniques to improve the efficiency of their attacks. Attacks are increasing in speed, agility, and sophistication,” says Tony Zabaneh, Manager, Systems Engineering – UAE & Oman, Fortinet.
According to Check Point Software’s latest threat intelligence report, on an average a Middle East organisation is being attacked on average 1469 times per week in the last 6 months, compared to 1165 attacks per organization globally. 83% of the malicious files in Middle East were delivered via email in the last 30 days and the most common vulnerability exploit type is Remote Code Execution, impacting 60% of the organizations. “We find ourselves in the midst of the fifth generation of cyberattacks such as Codecov in April and Kaseya in July, and the Log4j vulnerability which was exposed in December of last year,” says Ram Narayanan, Country Manager at Check Point Software Technologies, Middle East.
As cyberattacks become increasingly sophisticated, businesses in the region are having to constantly re-evaluate their security strategies and operations to protect their customers and data from potential threats, especially considering the massive increase in the attack surface faced by most of them due to an overwhelming shift to cloud-based services and applications coupled with remote working practices. According to a new report by Help AG’s partner Proofpoint, 44% of UAE CISOs think their organization is at risk of being targeted by a cyberattack in the coming 12 months, and 47% feel their company is unprepared to handle an attack.
“Looking at the biggest threats, the Middle East region echoes global findings closely, be it in terms of DDoS attacks, or cloud threats, rampancy of ransomware and of course critical vulnerabilities in the most used applications,” says Nicolai Solling, Chief Technology Officer at Help AG, the cybersecurity arm of e& enterprise.
Sameer Ahmed, Country Sales Manager at CyberKnight, echoes similar views on the emergence of Middle East as a favourite distination for cyberattackers. “Middle East is among the favorite regions for malicious attackers. It has raised the need for a very strategic approach towards cybersecurity in the Middle East. According to the global forecast by ResearchAndMarkets.com, the cybersecurity market size in the Middle East is expected to grow from $15 billion in 2020 to more than $30 billion by 2025,” states Sameer Ahmed.
Proliferation of digitization has led to the emergence of new cyber threats. Akshay Shirur, Product Manager at VAD Technologies LLC, says, “Digitization, remote & hybrid working, and reality technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and metaverse are revolutionizing the human digital experiences. They pose many risks to users and organizations.”
Ransomware attacks are on the rise. And there are many other attacks varying from phishing, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks mostly targeting government, private, oil and gas, telecom, and healthcare sectors particularly.
Amir Kanaan, Managing Director, Kaspersky
As is the case in the other parts of the world, the security landscape in Middle East is evolving faster than ever before. Dynamics are changing very fast. Ransomware is the most prevalent emerging business risk to businesses in Middle East. “Currently we are witnessing a growing trajectory of Ransomware attacks within Critical Infrastructure sectors, says Amir Kanaan, Managing Director, Kaspersky.
Compliance in Middle East
Middle East has traditionally not had many regulations enforced by law. This scenario is undergoing complete change and by the last quarter of 2022, stringent policy compliances like HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Sarbanes-Oxley Act and Soc2 must be enforced. “With national cybersecurity programs and the compliance requirement in effect in most countries in the Middle East, the security controls are being implemented both in Government and private sector and the security maturity graph in the region is steadily but surely getting better,” says Shahnawaz Sheikh, Vice President – Business Strategy at AmiViz.
Cybersecurity Threats Enterprises Should Watch for in Middle East
Cybersecurity is a pressing issue for every organization in the Middle East – from global enterprises to local SMEs. Ransomware attacks will continue to rise to target all kinds of customers. “Through our extensive research and incident response engagements, we identified Ransomware, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), and Identity and Credential Theft as the top threats facing the region,” says Nicolai Solling of Help AG.
DDoS attacks continue to rise, with a 24% increase in H1 2022 compared to H1 2021 as observed by Help AG. Of the 60,000+ attacks that targeted UAE this year alone, more than 8,000 attacks surpassed a volume higher than 1 Gbps, of which, 72% of attacks lasted longer than 10 minutes. “DDoS attacks are mostly targeting government, private, oil and gas, telecom, and healthcare sectors particularly,” says VAD Technologies’ Akshay Shirur.
Today attacks are targeting critical infrastructure, healthcare, information technology, financial services, and energy as high-priority sectors.
According to Sameer Ahmed of CyberKnight, technology obsolescence will remain the biggest threat as the aging IT/OT/ICS infrastructure in the energy sector makes systems more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Today every aspect of critical infrastructure is on the radar of attackers. Communication infrastructure, energy facilities and cooling facilities are especially targets of cyberattacks. For Imperium Middle East, critical sectors like Healthcare, Utility, Infrastructure, and BFSI will be the major targets of cybersecurity attacks in the MENA region.
“The IOT based solutions, medical testing equipment , and device inventory related to patient DATA will need to be protected from sophisticated cyber- attacks and hacks,” added Subela Bhatia, Founder and Managing Director for Imperium Middle East.
Cyber Skills Gap is a Leading Risk
Businesses in Middle East need a skilled workforce to protect against cyberatatcks that have increased in sophistication and volume. CISOs in the region are looking for more talent.
The pandemic has created new challenges for businesses as the latter adapt to an operating model under which hybrid working model has become the ‘new normal’. “CIOs are facing an array of cybersecurity challenges that impact their ability to protect the enterprise, and two of the biggest challenges are the security implications of increased telework and the cybersecurity skills shortage,” says Ram Narayanan of Check Point.
“The main challenge faced by CIOs of large corporations is the investment in terms of time and resources to build the in-house capability to manage cybersecurity effectively. The skills gap in the IT and cybersecurity industry only exacerbates this challenge. This is why the MSSP approach is becoming increasingly prevalent across the industry,” says Help AG’s Nicolai Solling.
“The biggest challenge faced by organizations is the lack of individuals with appropriate cybersecurity skills,” says VAD. “The rise in the advanced cyber threats would require advanced cybersecurity solutions and skilled resources to safeguard enterprises from the cloud, network, application, and endpoint-related cyber threats.” For Kaspersky, global cybersecurity skill shortage is a amajor challenge for CIOs implementing their cybersecurity strategies. The problem of cybersecurity skill shortage becomes all the more acute as Kaspersky says cybersecurity professions are split into very narrow specializations such as database security experts, personal data protection experts or network security specialists – as well as others that are making the hiring process for each specific role too expensive for smaller businesses and even unprofitable for larger enterprises.
Middle East is realizing the technology staff is aging and not adequately competent to deal with new-age cyber threats. “There is growing need to increase the cyber competency of its tech-force in having the right set cybersecurity skill, this could be little challenging as the most competent cyber talent is getting absorbed elsewhere as there is a global demand and as global shortage of cyber skills remain high,” CyberKnight’s Sameer Ahmed added.
For CISOs, maintaining operations in today’s heightened threat environment is a constant challenge. “Over the past few years, IT and cybersecurity experts have learned that to survive and thrive in our ever-growing digital world, individuals and organizations need to be more resilient. The ability to prevent cyberattacks, bounce back from hacker mischief or intrusions, keep important data safe, and maintain operations is an absolute necessity. In short, resiliency in the digital age is a must,” says Fortinet’s Tony Zabaneh.
During the COVID-19 pandemic organizations across the Middle East have made strides in remote working and collaboration, but securing a remote workforce is more difficult than a traditional, on-premises one.
Future of Cybersecurity in Middle East
Middle east is an attractive target for cyber-criminals. The threat landscape in the region is constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated. There is a growing need for an organised cyber security system to respond to the growing volume of sophisticated cyberthreats on its people, its businesses and its critical increasing
“The vast majority of these threats targets either an unknown or a known vulnerability in a software or an application. Unfortunately, large scales of attacks take place against the known vulnerabilities, however, preventing these attacks by patching and virtual patching and as well by applying strategies such as the ones we’ve mentioned above, e.g. Cyber Security Mesh Architecture, Zero Trust Network Access, Secure WAN Edge and Secure SDWAN, is a silver lining,” comments Tony Zabaneh of Fortinet.
“Apart from the universal cybersecurity threat concerns like malware, ransomware, phishing, access control issues, credential thefts etc., the enterprises should be cautious about the supply chain threats, targeted cyber-attacks and hacktivism, any unpatched networks and vulnerable cloud applications that are at risk,” says Shahnawaz Sheikh of AmiViz.