x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Hacktivism the motivator of cyber attacks in Middle East

The majority of cyber attacks in the region are the work of hacktivists with a message they want to spread rather than cyber criminals after financial or monetary gain.

The majority of cyber attacks in the region are the work of hacktivists with a message they want to spread rather than cyber criminals after financial or monetary gain.

Up to 45 per cent of all cyber attacks in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) are carried out by hacktivists, according to Gulf Business Machines, an IT company. About 40 per cent are cyber crime and the rest are classified as cyber warfare type attacks and espionage.

"Hacktivism is a phenomenon. It is all about political messages and motives.

"Back in the 1980s, you would spray paint [graffiti] on walls to make a point, but now we are living in a connected world and defacing websites is a very sexy way of delivering a message," said Tareque Choudhury, the chief security officer for the Middle East and Africa at the telecoms firm BT.

Last month several Saudi Arabian government websites, including the interior ministry's, were brought down by hackers outside of the country. "The dynamics we see in the US are hackers are interested in stealing data; in the Middle East stealing data is not always the motive, it is always the disruption of service, which has become rampant in the Middle East because of the political scenario," said Niraj Mathur, the security practice manager at Gulf Business Machines.

One of the most well-known attacks in the region was the Shamoon malicious software (malware), which targeted large oil and gas companies in the GCC. The malware, which infected more than 30,000 computers at Saudi Aramco, contained a code that was able to both steal information and wipe away data from the hard drive, replacing them with an image of a burning United States flag.

On the day of the attack last August, a hacktivist group called Cutting Sword of Justice posted its intention to attack the "main supporters" of the "crimes and atrocities taking place in … neighbouring countries such as Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt".

"The Shamoon attack was not financially motivated. It was a message that no one is impenetrable," said Mr Choudhury.

Cyber crime, on the other hand, which includes phishing - the attempt to gather private information from online users such as credit card numbers - is more predominant in Eastern Europe and the United States, but this is likely to change, according to the experts.

"There is a lot of cash in this part of the world, so it will definitely change.

"The internet base is still relatively small compared to Europe and the uptake of broadband in the home is still low," said Mr Choudhury. "Once more people go online, the percentage of online cyber crime [in the region] will rise."

Overall cyber crime is believed to be a US$1 billion a year industry.

 

thamid@thenational.ae