Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

Cyber criminals targeting smart fridges, televisions and laptops

Experts in UAE warn companies and the public must get smart with security

Cyber criminals are targeting UAE residents via their phones, smart fridges and televisions. Getty Images
Cyber criminals are targeting UAE residents via their phones, smart fridges and televisions. Getty Images

Cyber criminals are targeting UAE residents via their phones, smart fridges and televisions, experts have warned.

Officials at Symantec, an international security firm, said new research indicated the Emirates was subjected to a high volume of malware attacks.

Hussam Sedani, the company’s Middle East manager, said the success of businesses in the region meant potential rich pickings for shrewd criminals.

He said by illegally hacking into people’s smart fridges and other electronic household items, attackers were taking control of memory space needed to help them mine cryptocurrency more efficiently. The digital, decentralised, asset is known to be preferred by criminals for a range of illicit transactions as it is considered much harder to trace.

“Attackers are following the money to the UAE,” Mr Sedani told The National. “They know companies are doing better here than in other parts of the world."

The full extent of cybercrime faced by the UAE and the wider Mena region were laid bare in Symantec’s latest annual report.

It revealed that email malware attacks in the Middle East have increased every year since 2017, and now represented double the global average.

Last year, one in every 183 emails sent to or within the UAE contained a malicious link or attachment. The global average was one in every 412.

The report also revealed that instances of phishing, where fraudulent emails aim to obtaining personal information, were also abnormally high in the UAE.

In 2018, phishing attacks were initiated by one in every 2,312 emails in the Emirates, compared to a global average of one in 3,207.

Mr Sedani, 40, said companies in the UAE that had more than 2,500 employees were the most likely to be targeted by malware and phishing actors.

Meanwhile, smaller, medium-sized companies with between 500 and 1,000 staff were most likely to be impacted by spam emails.

He also said the most common type of cyber threat in the region was from a practice known as jacking.

This involves cyber criminals injecting malicious code into retailers’ websites to steal shoppers’ payment card details.

“Bigger companies tend to have more resources to go after vulnerabilities and shore up their security controls,” he said. “Attacks on smaller companies are flourishing here.

“Attacks all start with stealing with stealing someone’s credentials, that is the main objective of phishing emails.”

Mr Sedani went on to warn that the methods being used by cyber criminals were advancing at such a rate that the security industry was hard pressed to keep up.

He told how hacking smart devices in the home was allowing criminals to more efficiently mine for cryptocurrency such as bitcoins.

Unlike paper money, cryptocurrency is earned by the solving of complicated mathematical problems which require vast amounts of memory space.

By taking over systems belonging to others and pooling memory with their own networks, criminals can speed up the mining process and generate more wealth.

“Coin mining is very simple,” he said. “The criminals simply gain access to a system by hijacking devices like smart fridges, TVs, mobile phones or laptops.

“They take over the memory and central processing unit to mine for coins. They are not stealing any data here.

“There is no way you can know if a device has been compromised unless you have an advanced security system.”

Mehdi Quraishi, 54, CEO of Dubai digital services company, Ixtel, also acknowledged the cyber security threats faced by the region.

“Education is important – people need to know what they are connected to,” he said.

“Security is a difficult challenge that the market is facing in this region right now. There is a need for more awareness and training.”

Updated: March 28, 2019 11:11 AM