x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Emiratis train with the best to foil cyber threat

Idex 2013: The team will be working on identifying targeted cyber attacks and dealing with them at a Cyber Threat Centre in the UK.

Tim Wood, BAE Systems Detica’s Middle East director, talks about cyber security during Idex. Sammy Dallal / The National
Tim Wood, BAE Systems Detica’s Middle East director, talks about cyber security during Idex. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Corporate and government officials will be trained at one of the world's most advanced centres working against cyber attacks.

BAE Systems Detica, an international business and technology consulting company specialising in collecting, managing and exploiting information to reveal actionable intelligence, will be training Emiratis at their Cyber Threat Centre in the UK, said Tim Wood, Detica's Middle East director.

"A lot of what we do is try to work with partners and local organisations to take this cutting-edge technology and adapt it to their needs here in the UAE," said Mr Wood.

"We are going to have UAE nationals at our Cyber Security Threat Centre, working side by side with our cyber analysts."

Mr Wood added that the team, which he did not name, will be working on identifying targeted cyber attacks and dealing with them.

"The centre essentially provides security and end-to-end support to large multinational organisations where we have the capability to identify advanced and targeted threats," he said at Idex yesterday.

It also provides a specialist response unit that, after identifying the attack, deals with the hardware that has been compromised and maintains the integrity of the system.

According to Mr Wood, government organisations as well as defence and aerospace corporations are facing a growing threat of targeted cyber attacks that are designed to conduct a specific malicious activity.

"In 2012, we had 240 cases of targeted cyber attacks," he said, 24 of which were in the Arabian Gulf. "Out of these attacks, the vast majority are espionage attacks, where sensitive data is being targeted for theft," he said.

The majority of these attacks were state sponsored, he added, with most of them originating in China. "We are now monitoring over 20 attack groups and they are from China, with a few based out of the Middle East and Eastern Europe."

According to Dan Jeffery, head of the commercial sector at Detica, the targeted attacks usually centre on industrial control systems that can present a risk to not only machinery and hardware but human life.

"In June 2010, the Stuxnet virus shut down centrifuges at Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant. They controlled the centrifuges and broke them down," he said.

"An attack can target an oil plant and open and close valves, causing pressure to build up and then creating an explosion. Such viruses also delete themselves and become untraceable."

The viruses, also known as malware, are designed to steal secrets, wipe data, shut down corporate computers and even sabotage nuclear power plants.

Last year, the Mahdi Trojan affected the UAE. The virus records keystrokes, screenshots and audio and steals text and image files. It has infected computers primarily in Iran, Israel, Afghanistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, including systems used by critical infrastructure companies, government embassies and financial services firms.

Other target industries include banking, legal and energy.

"Law firms have patent information, merger and acquisition records and personal information of important people - they are regular targets for attack," Mr Jeffery said.

Detica uses a system that analyses the behaviour of the attack group and the cyber threats in a bid to pre-empt them or reduce their effect.

"We get real-time alerts and respond to it immediately," Mr Wood said. "The problem with cyber security is that more and more people are creating new threats every day and we have to keep following the trends and their development."

Mr Jeffery added: "What is needed is to keep feeding the manpower in the cybersecurity field by educating more Emiratis in it to keep track of this rapidly growing and evolving threat."

amustafa@thenational.ae