At a time of extreme volatility in the Middle East over the Israel-Gaza war and very real fears of a regional confrontation, several recent developments have shown that other factors are vital for international stability – especially the need for robust cyber security.
On Tuesday, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre released its annual review, highlighting the need for effective and adaptive cyber security that can keep up with the growing pace of online attacks. The report noted the risk artificial intelligence and aggressive state-aligned groups pose to critical infrastructure, as well as civic processes such as elections.
This warning should be alarming, but we are already seeing similar threats playing out around the world. DP World Australia, part of Dubai’s global ports operator DP World, was forced to take urgent action to restore landside freight operations at its ports following a cyber security incident on Friday. The attack on and ensuing disruption to this essential piece of trade infrastructure was so serious that Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil was involved, confirmed that the country’s Cyber Security Centre was providing technical advice and assistance to DP World.
The dangers posed by a lapse in cyber security are particularly of note in the Middle East, which is the fastest-growing region in the world when it comes to internet adoption – already 98 per cent of the GCC’s population are online. With this connectivity, and the many advantages it brings, also come challenges; earlier this month the head of the UAE’s Cybersecurity Council, Dr Mohammed Al Kuwaiti, said more than 71 million attempted cyber-attacks in the Emirates had been blocked in the first three quarters of this year.
Cyber security, whether on personal computers, our smartphones or within a wider setting such as in the military or major businesses remains the first line of defence against online criminals and terrorists. To stay one step ahead of such a threat requires constant investment, innovation and co-operation. The UAE has always been aware of the risks that come with a high level of digital advancement. Last month, the country signed a co-operation deal with the US Treasury on cybersecurity and digital resilience. According to the US, this co-operation will involve information sharing relating to the financial sector, staff training and study visits, and cross-border cybersecurity exercises.
Co-operation between business and government is also vital. PureHealth, the largest healthcare platform in the Middle East, announced last week that it was integrating its online security with the UAE’s National Security Operations Centre to safeguard sensitive clinical and patient data.
Phishing, brandjacking, blockchain, clickjacking – cybercrime can seem jargon-heavy, abstract and technical, until one falls victim to it. However, the serious political, financial and economic consequences of failing to deal with cyber threats – that are far removed from the realms of science fiction or spy thrillers – are a reminder that in our increasingly interconnected world, online defence is integral to national defence.
Updated: November 15, 2023, 3:00 AM