x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Saudi Arabia is a top target for cyber spammers

Cyber attacks are on the rise, with Saudi Arabia the region's leading target.

Saudi Arabia is the most targeted country for cyber attacks in the Middle East. Fahad Shadeed / Reuters
Saudi Arabia is the most targeted country for cyber attacks in the Middle East. Fahad Shadeed / Reuters

Saudi Arabia is the most targeted country for cyber attacks in the Middle East, according to a new report.

The kingdom ranks second globally for spam attacks, while the UAE is the fifth for overall security threat profile in the Middle East according to Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report 2013.

The overall security threat profile ranking in the UAE has pushed the country up six places to 40.

Targeted attacks surged 42 per cent last year across the world.

The region's sophisticated internet infrastructure, high internet and mobile penetration and growing economy make it an attractive target for cyber criminals keen to make easy money without too much hassle.

Cyber espionage designed to steal intellectual property is also on the rise, with the small to medium sized enterprises (SME) the most vulnerable because of smaller amounts spent on internet security, according to the report.

Criminals are becoming more sophisticated and governments and businesses in the Middle East are particularly vulnerable.

"We need to look at security as an arms race now. Every day criminals are coming up with new attacks. Their motivations are financial and political in some aspects," said Johnny Karam, the managing director of Symantec for the Middle East and North Africa. The patterns in the region reflect what is happening globally, he said.

Last year Symantec discovered 1.6 new malicious software (malware) variants every day, one in 532 websites were infected with malware and the company blocked 250,000 web attacks each day, of which about 65 per cent were handled automatically.

The "watering hole" strategy, by which hackers wait for their targets to come to a website they have infected, is becoming more sophisticated. Once a user visits the website, the virus is unleashed and from there, they can gain access to all the information they need. Even legitimate websites can be hacked in this way.

More recently "hacktivists" have targeted social media accounts, sometimes to great effect, a trend that was likely to continue, said Mr Karam.

"All that stands between an organisation and a hacker on Twitter is a password," he said. "It will be interesting to see how Twitter responds."

Most recently, the Associated Press Twitter account was hacked into, with a false tweet posted stating that the US president Barack Obama had been injured in explosions at the White House.

Stocks plunged, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average down by 143 points and wiping off US$1.6 billion in value. The tweet was deleted within minutes and shares recovered for a gain, but the damage it managed to inflict indicates the vulnerabilities in social media.

"These trends are likely to continue next year," said Mr Karam. "Mobile is an area where attacks are growing, spam remains as one of the key methods of attacks, as well as web pages and financial sector phishing".