UAE records highest computer breaches across the Middle East

Amanda Fisher
Filed on August 7, 2014

Symantec said a three-year investigation showed a new attack group conducted a prolonged and sophisticated cyber espionage campaign.

As more high-level threats to cyber security in the region emerge, data shows the UAE has the highest number of computer system breaches across the Middle East. Computer software company Symantec recently said a three-year investigation showed a new attack group — dubbed ‘Dragonfly’ — conducted a prolonged and sophisticated cyber espionage campaign against the global oil and gas sector, likely emanating from a professional Eastern European state-sponsored group.

Symantec threat intelligence analyst Alan Neville, who works on the Attack Investigations Team based in Dublin, told Khaleej Times that though there had been no detections of infection in the UAE, it was still a potential target, with detections registered in Qatar, Iran and Egypt. “This is an ongoing threat, we have active infections up to today.”

There are more than 1,000 active infections in 84 countries. Symantec data showed the UAE has consistently had the highest number of ongoing infection detections in the Middle East on a monthly basis since last July, peaking at 500,000 at the end of last year.

Neville said a major impediment to minimising harm from cyber security breaches — which are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with the Dragonfly group attaching malware to legitimate software updates to gain access to sensitive information — is people being unaware when their systems become infected. Experts say that in 90 per cent of cases, users are unaware when their systems are compromised.

Attacks on systems generally happen for one of three reasons: Espionage, sabotage, and theft. The Dragonfly group’s objective seemed to be to spy on the international oil and gas sector which could help governments or competitors gain useful insights into systems and plans, Neville said. The group appeared to have been working business hours somewhere in Eastern Europe, indicating they were “professionals”.

“It’s a very real thing ... You’ll see organisations, particularly underground teams, set up ... so they can get footholds into organisations.”

A recent Microsoft Security Intelligence Report showed that in Gulf countries, including the UAE, operating system infection rates were almost twice the worldwide average, with up to 13 computers out of every 1,000 being infected.

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