HomeCII/OTUnited Arab Emirates Under Increased Cybersecurity Threats

United Arab Emirates Under Increased Cybersecurity Threats

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The increasing focus on becoming a global hub for business and innovation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is driving a digital transformation in the Middle East. The governments of the individual emirates and the UAE as a whole are pushing the adoption of digital technologies and services to create a more connected and efficient society. This push towards digitalization is part of the UAE Digital Government Strategy 2025, which aims to create an inclusive, digital-by-design framework that is resilient and open by default.

Under this strategy, there are 64 different digital initiatives organized into six pillars, one of which is the Unified Digital Platform (UDP). The UDP brings together government services under a common platform to eliminate paperwork and streamline bureaucracy. Additionally, the Smart Dubai 2021 Strategy calls for the development of smart, resilient cities, an interconnected society, easy-to-use autonomous transportation, and a lean, connected government.

While these digital transformation initiatives are vital for the future growth and prosperity of the UAE, they have also attracted the attention of increasingly sophisticated cyber attackers. The existing cyber workforce in the UAE is struggling to keep up with basic security efforts such as patching, and organizations are finding it challenging to recruit enough cybersecurity-skilled professionals.

According to Irina Zinovkina, the head of the information security research group at Positive Technologies, the UAE is facing the emergence of complex cyber attacks, the development of new attacker techniques, difficult-to-detect malware, and a lack of personnel to manage cybersecurity effectively. In order to keep up with digital transformation, organizations in the UAE need to identify and assess the information assets that require protection and determine the potential impact of a cyberattack.

The threat landscape in the UAE is evolving rapidly, with more than 50,000 attacks targeting the nation’s public sector every day. Not only government agencies but also businesses in the UAE are facing cybersecurity incidents, with 87% of UAE-based businesses experiencing a cyber incident in the past two years.

A report by Abu Dhabi-based cybersecurity services firm CPX found over 155,000 vulnerable assets in the UAE’s internet space, with 40% of critical vulnerabilities remaining unpatched over the past five years. This highlights the importance of timely and effective patch management practices to reduce cyber risks. However, the shortage of cybersecurity professionals in the UAE has made timely patching unrealistic in many cases.

The adoption of new technologies such as cloud computing, operational technology (OT), and artificial intelligence (AI) has expanded the attack surface in the UAE, providing cyber attackers with more opportunities for illegal system infiltration. Cybersecurity professionals stress the need for a unified response to cybersecurity threats that transcends local, regional, and global boundaries.

The growing digital transformation efforts in the UAE have attracted the attention of cybercriminals, who are increasingly using AI technologies to launch more sophisticated attacks. While digital transformation enhances the UAE’s digital economy, it also increases the potential impact of a successful cyber attack on the country’s infrastructure.

To address these cybersecurity challenges, organizations in the UAE need to ensure that cybersecurity measures keep pace with the move to cloud-native services. Legacy hardware appliances pose a challenge to securing the digital transformation, and adopting security-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service tools is vital. A shift towards a zero-trust model that assumes data and applications are everywhere is recommended to enhance cybersecurity.

However, the shortage of cybersecurity professionals in the UAE remains a significant barrier to managing the security of cloud services and digital assets. Finding skilled professionals to plan and operate security measures is crucial for the success of digital transformation initiatives in the UAE. Despite these challenges, the UAE’s commitment to digital innovation and growth bodes well for its future as a global leader in business and technology.

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