Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Online ‘activists’ a threat to security

Cyber experts warn of the danger of hackers who are out to cause political mischief, or worse, to create destruction.

DUBAI // The most prevalent cyber criminals in the Middle East are not online thieves out to pilfer your bank account, but “activists”, according to a new report by a UK-based defence, security and aerospace company.

These individuals and groups take their political, religious or social causes to the internet, setting out to harm reputations, steal data or target infrastructure, said Dr Adrian Nish, head of threat intelligence at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence.

“There are many tensions in the Middle East, many communities who are very active, scoring political blows against each other,” he said.

“And to some extent, it does not seem like such a significant threat but then you do get nation state-backed actors using those personas to steal information and maybe publish it, and pretend to be an activist.

“We’ve seen many cases of this happening in the Middle East.”

While these crimes, he said, were much more at the nation-state angle than corporate, there were also cyber criminals targeting Middle Eastern businesses, “trying to defraud people out of large sums of money as well”, Dr Nish said during a meeting on demystifying cybercriminals at the Fairmont Hotel in Dubai on Wednesday.

Cyber crime is a massive industry with so many ways for criminals to cause havoc, he said.

There are those who run phone support scams, those who write software for other cyber criminals or launder the ill-gotten gains or help prop up the cybercrime supply chain in other ways. There are also non-state actors who work for governments to steal valuable data or intelligence to create international incidents.

Cyber crime was the second most-reported economic crime, and one that affected 30 per cent of organisations, in the Middle East, the report said.

“Threats are evolving, and governments and businesses have an urgent requirement to comply with increasing regulation,” said Bulent Teksoz, global cyber security strategist at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence.

Warfare, he said, does not look like it used to.

“Battles would take place in the air, on land or in the sea but the battlefield has now extended to cyber space,” he said.

“Borders mean nothing.

“This interconnected world leaves organisations vulnerable to threats.

“You have to know your enemy to defend yourself.”

He said that Middle East governments did recognise the scale of the threat and were taking precautions to defend their countries.

“Governments are doing well on educating end-users,” he said.

Matthew Cochran, chairman of the Defence Services Marketing Council in Abu Dhabi, said ‘hacktivism’ was dangerous if not controlled and approved by the government.

“If a ‘hacktivist’ is not appropriately audited by cyber security supervisors and cleared by the respective government cyber command authorities then a slippery slope of private individuals with an enormous amount of sensitive documents and data can endanger both the public and government alike globally,” he said.

cmalek@thenational.ae

Updated: March 30, 2016 04:00 AM

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