20 Major Cyber Attacks Thwarted Since Last Year

ABU DHABI - The UAE has state-of-the-art infrastructure that can effectively foil cyber attacks, but many government agencies and establishments have yet to recognise the importance of safeguarding themselves against this growing threat.

By Olivia Olarte

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Published: Mon 27 Jul 2009, 2:28 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 8:02 PM

Since last year, around 20 major cyber attacks on several government offices and establishments in the country, including four attacks early this year, were thwarted by the newly-established cyber security coordination centre, aeCERT.

aeCERT deals with thousands of cyber threats on a daily basis, mostly minor incidents such as scan, spam, malicious hosts and malicious codes.

Established in July 2008, the UAE Computer Emergency Response Team (aeCERT) is an initiative by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) to facilitate the detection, prevention and response of cyber security incidents on the Internet. It aims to be the centrepoint for all cyber attacks that happen and of concern with the UAE infrastructure

“Since July 2008, we have had about 20 major threats. We’re talking real major, with huge impact on the constituents. And some of these incidents actually were the reason why these constituents came and signed with us,” said Tariq Abdulghaffar Mohammad Al Hawi, director of aeCERT.

To date, aeCERT has around 20 constituents comprising ministries, government agencies, banks and other establishments that are benefitting from aeCERT’s “free-of-charge” services.

“Our aim is to have 120 (constituents) by the end of 2009,” Al Hawi said.

Among its constituents, “all government agencies constitute the critical national infrastructure of the UAE. They hold the most critical and crucial information in the UAE, so we have to provide the maximum security for them,” he stated.

Al Hawi noted that cyber threat is increasing, “specifically to the UAE because you can see everything now is going online. You don’t need to visit certain premises to pay, no need to visit an office or fill application on paper. It’s all being done online.”

He added that cyber crime is becoming a serious problem, particularly cases that involve money. “We’ve been in this business for the last 10 years and the amount of hacked money is increasing exponentially. I remember that six or seven years ago, we use to deal with cases like Dh10,000 to Dh20,000 maximum, now you’re talking about millions of dirhams,” Al Hawi pointed out.

“Besides that, you are talking about very confidential information being stolen or being viewed by other people. This is more damaging like credit cards,” he added, citing an incident where several credit card numbers were stolen and the bank was blackmailed for money, or the credit card numbers will be made public.

“The hacker when he sees the credit card, he doesn’t use it. He keeps it with him and blackmails the bank. They never use the credit card because they can be tracked (down) and they are not looking for (easy cash), their goal is higher,” Al Hawi explained.

Meshal Abdulla Bin Hussain, head of Threat Intelligence Operations Centre (TIOC) at aeCERT, which monitors the networks and infrastructure of its constituents, said they have traced a lot of hackers from different countries although it was difficult to pinpoint the pattern at this nascent stage.

“Every month, the attackers are changing. Every month we produce a report on top 10 attackers to the UAE (and) everytime it’s different. Sometimes you see Estonia, this month, South Africa, Egypt, so we cannot really say. Every month, you will see something different,” Hussain said.

“We are tracing all these, we are tracking them to see if there’s a pattern, after a year or two years, we (expect to) have a full amount of information to be able to analyse and know these patterns,” he added.

Hussain said the operations centre is very effective in foiling attacks before they impact the infrastructure.

“(When) we see this alarm, we have analysts in the operations centre who analyse all these data and they come up with some precautions,” he said.

At present TIOC operates from 7am to 3pm but by the end of the year, Hussain hopes to have a 24/7 fully-dedicated operations centre to monitor all cyber incidents and attacks.

Al Hawi said, “We have the best technologies. I don’t think somebody has the capabilities that aeCERT has. We’re spending millions on aeCERT. We’re getting the best technologies.”

Lamenting some companies’ disregard for security, Al Hawi said: “Whenever somebody thinks about any project, they think of everything and at a later stage they include the security part of the project.”

“It’s always better to have security from day one because security can change the architecture, amount of devices that you’ve bought and even the process flow. So whenever (you) think about a project, include the security on the first day, (this way) you know the (total) cost,” he advised.

Al Hawi advised computer users to be wary of e-mails asking for bank details.

He added that the simplest task of updating anti-virus is also very essential. “Something like this very simple, (yet) people are not aware of these things,” he said.

For those who cannot do so during the day, “you do all your updates at night,” Al Hawi recommended.

olivia@khaleejtimes.ae



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