New centre set up
Cryptology and digital forensics to be taught at Khalifa University
Gareth van Zyl
Hackers and other cybercriminals are being targeted in Abu Dhabi as Khalifa University seeks to train a new breed of crimefighter to protect the Government and businesses against online security breaches.
The university has set up a Cyber Operations Centre of Excellence, which aims to teach students how to protect key government infrastructure or local companies from attacks.
"More and more we are now moving from an area where the hackers were teenagers to an area where the hackers are malevolent intruders, maybe states, willing to get some confidential information," said Guy Meguer, the vice president of sales at Cassidian, a company that has collaborated with Khalifa University and EmirajeSystems in setting up the centre.
"So the intention behind this campus is to have national capabilities being raised and being available for the Government to protect their assets in the future," said Mr Meguer. Students at the centre are expected to gain expertise in fields such as cryptology and digital forensics. The students will then be able to apply their skills in the public or private sector.
GCC countries are investing heavily in the area of cyber security, according to the research company Frost & Sullivan. The company said Saudi Arabia had assigned a budget of US$33 billion (Dh121.2bn) on IT cyber security for the period 2007 to 2018.
The most prominent cyber attack to occur in the region was in Iran last year, when the Stuxnet virus infected the country's nuclear infrastructure.
Concerns from the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) and countries such as Saudi Arabia over the security of BlackBerry services last year also highlighted the issue of cyber security in the region.
Ahmed Abdella, the regional manager at RSA, the security division of the computer company EMC, said attacks against intellectual property were also rising in the Middle East.
"We're probably behind the curve in the region in terms of the number or sheer volumes of attacks and also sophistication," Mr Abdella said. "But we're very quickly catching up because such organisations have realised that the line of defence for companies in this region is probably behind those in Europe and the US, which makes them an easier target.
"We need to also make sure that we have the qualified people who understand what they're looking at, because you can pretty much have the best technology in the world and if people don't know what they're doing you'll still be very vulnerable to attacks."
The opening of the cyber operations centre is also in line with Abu Dhabi's Economic Vision 2030 to make the capital a modern place to live and work in addition to having a knowledge-based economy, said Professor Tod Laursen, the president of Khalifa University.
"The 2030 vision is all about capacity building, and it's about the Emirates being able to count on their own and their own home-grown talent for the innovation potential that they need," he said.
The centre of cyber operations is the latest example of targeted industrial teaching at Khalifa University, as the institution also has a computer chip research and development centre and the Etisalat-BT Innovation Centre in Sharjah.