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Conference raises awareness on cyber attacks

Bernd Debusmann Jr. (Chief Reporter)/Abu Dhabi Filed on November 6, 2015 | Last updated on November 6, 2015 at 05.42 am
Conference raises awareness on cyber attacks

Saif Al Nuaimi.
(Supplied photo)

Lyndsay Turley

Azeem Aleem

RSA Conference on information security discusses securing "smart cities", the threat from highly sophisticated online criminals.

More than 800 cyber security experts from around the world gathered in Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace on Wednesday for one of the world's most prestigious and long-running international security events, the RSA Conference on information security.

The topics being discussed at the two-day conference include securing "smart cities", the threat from highly sophisticated online criminals, state and corporate espionage, and potentially devastating cyber-attacks on infrastructure or oil and gas targets.

The event - first held in the US in 1991 as a forum for cryptographers - was organised with the support of the National Electronic Security Authority (Nesa), the UAE federal body which oversees the country's cyberspace protection. (The acronym RSA stands for Rivest, Shamir and Adelman, the names of three cryptographers).

Saif Al Nuaimi, Nesa's Chief of Regulatory and Strategic Affairs, said the conference provides an opportunity for the UAE government to make people and companies aware of the threats emanating from an increasingly-connected world.

"We as a nation, have come a long way in a considerably short time. We are aware that with advancement comes vulnerability, and we therefore place great emphasis on cyber security, to help create a secure digital environment," he said. "We are here today to share knowledge and experiences and emphasise the idea of "shared responsibility" to highlight the personal role that each individual plays in driving the development of a safer cyber culture."

Aside from a large number of sessions directed towards business and government security professionals, the event included a "CyberSafety Village" aimed at helping parents and educators understand the dangers posed to children and young adults by cyber bullying, online predators and identity theft.

Lyndsay Turley, Head of Communications and Public Affairs for ISC2, a non-profit which specialises in IT education, told Khaleej Times that instilling security awareness early on is a vitally important aspect of protecting children.

"Kids are online very quickly all over the world. You see children learning how to swish on their iPads right from as soon as they can sit up," she said. "Parents just don't appreciate how easy it is for a child to accidentally come across something that could upset them, or how an eight or nine-year old playing on a game could become bullied within the game. The awareness and appreciation of the issues isn't there."

Turley added that the effects of online bullying can potentially be even more devastating than those of physical bullying.

"The online world is everywhere. You can't escape it," she said. "You can walk home from school and you can be in the safety of your home if you're being bullied in the schoolyard. That's not the case online where you get bullied on text, on a phone, or every time you get online. It's far more invasive."

A recurring theme of the RSA conference is the belief that organisations - be they private companies or governmental bodies - understand that attempts at cyber intrusions are almost inevitable.

"You must first understand that you will be hacked. You must then have an understanding of what your crown jewels are," said Azeem Aleem, RSA Senior Manager of Advanced Cyber Defense Practice. "If you understand your crown jewels, by the time a hacker gets there you will have already tried to stop them."

Aleem added that increased connectivity and the "Internet of Things" mean that cyber-attacks will likely become more numerous - and more dangerous - than ever before.

"Everything is connected. You're mobile devices, your healthcare, and your fitness band. The connectivity is creating vulnerability," he said, adding that smart cities, for example, required a continuous effort to protect against hackers. Event organisers say that another UAE-based RSA conference is expected to be held again in November next year.

Cyber crimes in the UAE

> Cyber crime remains a pervasive threat to organisations in the UAE, with 41 per cent of respondents indicating that it had impacted them in the past 24 months as per Global Economic Crime Survey done by PricewaterhouseCoopers'.

>In the Middle East, cyber-crime is the second most common form of economic crime.

>The region's digital markets are expanding at an overall compound annual growth rate of 12 per cent and are expected to be worth $35 billion in 2015.

> Over the past few years, all sectors are exposed in the Middle East, including:

The public sector - 19 UAE government websites were targeted in July 2014, according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the UAE

Oil and gas - Saudi Aramco and RasGas, the Qatari national gas producer, fell victim to attacks in 2012

Financial services - RAK Bank in the UAE and BMI in Oman were attacked in 2012 and 2013, respectively, by an international group of hackers


Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Originally from Mexico City, I've been in Dubai since January 2015. Before arriving in in the UAE I worked as a general news reporter in TV and print in Mexico City, NYC and Washington DC. I'm interested in defence issues, politics, technology, aviation and history. In my spare time i enjoy traveling and football - I'm a keen fan of Chelsea FC. I developed an interest in the Middle East traveling through Jordan and the West Bank. I have a BA in Political Science from Dickinson College in the USA and an MA in International Journalism from City University London.

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