Cyber attacks on the rise across the Middle East and North Africa
Ransomware attacks are on the rise in the Middle East proving to be an easy way for European cyber criminals to make money
According to Symantec, there was a 500 per cent increase in ransomware attacks globally last year. Hackers use malicious software (malware) to hack into a user’s computer and refuse access to the computer or its files unless a fee is paid. They tend to lock the computer by issuing a fake warning message from law enforcement entities claiming that the user’s activities have breached local laws
“Ransomware is a new global phenomenon, originating from Eastern Europe,” said Theodore Karasik, the director of research and development at the Dubai security consultancy Inegma. “Cyber criminals can easily create the malware and prey on individuals and businesses.”
Kaspersky Security Network reported more than 650,000 ransomware infection incidents across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) last year, and it is not just consumers that have been infected, but companies as well, particularly in the oil and gas sector.
“It is not always possible to track who is carrying these attacks but in most cases these types of malware are developed by cyber-gangs in China or Eastern Europe and sold in the underground market to be used by different gangs or by local players,” said Ghareeb Saad, a senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.
The extent of the localisation of these attacks came to light in the Palestinian Territories, where warning messages carrying the emblem of the Palestinian police were used in a region with only 1 million connected computers.
Some of the more sophisticated attackers can earn up to US$3 million in just six months.
“Most of the time they won’t unlock the machine even after a user pays,” said Orla Cox, the head of Symantec’s security response team. “They don’t need to once they get their money.
But while such attacks are on the rise, this region is still one of the least targeted across the world as cyber criminals continue to focus on Europe and Asia.
“The anti-virus vendors are obviously deeply involved in searching for ransomware, malware and trojans. It is a threat in the region and it is affecting organisations, but there are much bigger threats that are more specific to the region,” said Tareque Choudhury, the chief security officer for the Middle East and Africa at BT.
These threats include denial of service attacks and cyber espionage.
“Ransomware is a lucrative industry, but hacktivists here are more politically motivated at the moment because of the political instability in places like Syria or Bahrain,” said Mr Choudhury.
The best solution is not to pay up, but to reboot the computer and rid it of the malware using anti-virus software.
“Much like kidnapping and ransom by gangs, insurgents and maritime pirates, ransoms can leave users without their beloved data and poorer. It takes one wrong click to be a victim. Public warnings need to be more pronounced,” said Mr Karasik.
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Updated: May 22, 2014 04:00 AM