Experts Suggest Middle East Faces Cyber Security ‘Pandemic’

The Middle East has struggled to get to grips with increasing levels of cyber crime in recent years. A problem which has only been exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, according to experts.

The population of the region is one of the youngest in the world, with around 60% of inhabitants currently under the age of 30. That probably goes a long way to explaining why there has been a recent surge in the use of technology, and particularly the internet. In 2012, just 39% of people in the Middle East had access to the worldwide web, but a study in 2019 showed that figure had pretty much doubled, to 71%. That report on internet usage around the globe can be read at https://wearesocial.com/blog/2019/01/digital-2019-global-internet-use-accelerates

Increasing Tech, Increasing Crime

Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact of modern life that, as our dependence upon technology grows, so does the risk of cyber crime. As people have been pushed increasingly online during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the problem has only worsened. A leading cyber security expert working with the UAE Government, Mohamed al-Kuwaiti, suggested that, “There is a cyber pandemic, not only a biological pandemic.”

Although al-Kuwaiti did not go into details, he revealed that “the financial sector was one of the most attacked areas, as well as the health sector”, adding that the number of cyber crimes committed in 2020 has risen by “at least 250%” as people were forced to increase their digital footprint.

Although the pandemic has certainly accelerated the problem, these issues have been known in the region for quite some time. A 2019 CIGI-IPSOS report revealed that as many as 76% of the people in the Middle East and Maghreb region had been a victim of a cyber attack in one form or another. These crimes include everything from hacking and online fraud, to hate speech and other forms of online harassment.

Financial Institutions 

One of the most obvious targets for cyber crime are financial institutions, and according to Joseph Torbey, chairman of the World Union of Arab Bankers, “The Middle East is one of the world’s most-targeted areas of cybercrime and data loss”. It’s thought that much of the attacks originate from nearby Iran and may even be state sponsored. 

Whoever is behind the rise in cyber crime, people should be vigilant, as nobody is safe, even massive organisations. As recently as July, global oil producing giants Saudi Aramco were the target of a $50 million attack. Hackers were able to obtain valuable company documents, demanding a preposterous sum in return handing back the information. This is just one of a string of attacks on energy companies in recent years. 

Another area which has seen a rise in cyber crime is that of cryptocurrency, with $600m worth of tokens having been stolen from the Poly Network just last week, making it the biggest ever decentralised finance hack. You can read our guide to safely storing cryptocurrency at https://coed.com/2021/01/16/top-5-best-practices-for-storing-bitcoins-safely-in-wallets.

Not Always Hackers

When we talk about cyber crime, we often think of hackers and organised gangs of criminals. But the internet has facilitated a sharp rise in activities such as online gambling, which is illegal in much of the Middle East and surrounding areas. Despite that fact, a myriad of comparison sites can be found on the internet, offering advice to people in the region on how to safely wager at casinos or sports betting sites. They help players to identify licensed casinos and betting companies offshore, detailing the various bonuses on offer and explaining how to make safe online payments. One such example can be seen here at https://arabianbetting.com/en.

Another activity that we don’t necessarily think of as cyber crimes, is online hate speech. This type of incident usually appears on social media sites such as Twitter and often targets activists. One particularly serious example occurred back in November 2020, when a social media account posting under the pseudonym Muhammad Saleh al-Iraqi told its followers to “cleanse” a protest at Habbouby Square, resulting in violent clashes.

With the world struggling to contain a global pandemic, now is the time for the region to come together and find innovative ways to combat cyber crime.

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