Middle East battles ‘cyber pandemic’ as hackers and malicious actors take over cyber space

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Middle East is currently experiencing a different type of pandemic as the Arab nations also battle coronavirus cases at the same time.

“There is a cyber pandemic, not only a biological pandemic,” Mohamed al-Kuwaiti, head of the United Arab Emirates Cyber Security, told CNBC on Sunday.

Hackers have taken advantage of increased digital adoption accelerated by covid-19 pandemic, exposing security vulnerabilities, and causing “at least 250% increase” in cyberattacks in Middle East, according to the report.

“As we moved into a full online life, we saw a huge increase in many of those attacks,” from various sources, Mohamed al-Kuwaiti, said.

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“We see it coming from the whole region, but one is Iran,” he said. Iran also said it has been a victim of hacking, reflecting security vulnerabilities in the entire Middle East region and frequent cyberattacks which often go undetected and sometimes, state sponsored.

“The financial sector was one of the most attacked areas, as well as the health sector,” Al-Kuwaiti said.

Al-Kuwaiti also said that UAE was the target of “huge attacks” from “activists” after it established formal ties with Israel in August.

When asked about the type of attacks, the security chief said “phishing” and “ransomware.”

A new research by TrendMicro, an American-Japanese multinational cyber security software company,  says critical public infrastructure and government IT systems are becoming a primary target for hackers globally, with ransomware as their preferred method.

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“Current malicious actors have opted to demand heftier ransoms from targets that are more likely to pay, such as healthcare companies and local governments,” the report said.

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A phishing attack occurs when a cybercriminal hides his identity and poses as a legitimate person or business to obtain sensitive information from a victim. Phishing often leads to other attacks, including ransomware.

In a ransomware attack, critical data and files are encrypted and locked, blocking access, until a ransom is paid.

Al Kuwaiti said the UAE had established a new National Cyber Security Council to develop policies and laws to strengthen cyber security, and ensure the country is not vulnerable to the types of attacks that could easily affect its society, government or businesses.

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“The UAE has gone through a whole digital transformation,” he said. “The vision of our leadership is to build on top of that transformation.”

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