BUSINESS – Cyber security becomes a multi-billion $ market

 

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By Peter Feuilherade

The annual global cost of cyber crime is estimated at more than $113 billion annually, with some 380 million victims, making cyber security one of the fastest expanding markets. Across the Middle East alone, spending in this sector is set to grow by many billions of dollars over the next decade.

Cyber security involves the amalgamation of a variety of technologies including anti‑virus, intrusion prevention systems, data encryption, firewalls and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) mitigation. These can reduce the risks of massive loss of data, while ensuring business continuity in the event of an attack.

Rapid economic development in the large industries which dominate the region, such as oil, gas, banking services, financial and insurance, as well as the exchange of sensitive personal data associated with the growth in e‑commerce, have made these prime targets for hackers and cyber attackers.

The 2014 Global Economic Crime Survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) identified cyber crime as the second most common form of economic crime reported in the Middle East.

Most of the cyber attacks have been DDOS attacks and website defacement. But major companies in the oil and gas industries have also been hit, prompting governments and enterprises to work together to secure public utilities and other critical networks. Online offences such as money and identity theft, as well as the rapid take-up of cloud-based services, are also driving the efforts to beef up cyber security.

Government and business sites alike are vulnerable to a variety of online threats, ranging from cyber espionage – collecting information on an opponent’s secrets, intentions and capabilities – to attacks by politically motivated hackers and even state sponsored groups. In the GCC, the cyber attacks on critical installations in Saudi Arabia and Qatar in 2012 acted as a wake‑up call, with US intelligence sources pointing the finger at Iran.

In August 2012, the state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco was the target of a large-scale malware attack dubbed Shamoon that infected tens of thousands of the company’s PCs, as well as its website and e-mail system. A self-styled activist group, Cutting Sword of Justice, claimed responsibility. Qatar’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) producer RasGas was hit by a similar attack just days later.

“When Aramco was attacked, information on something like 32,000 PCs was erased in three hours. This does not happen very often, but I know lots of companies that would be killed by that kind of attack,” Laurent Heslault, director of security strategies at the US-based IT security firm Symantec, told the Gulf Business website.

Governments in many MENA countries, including all the GCC states, are constantly updating their Information and Communication Technology (ICT) strategies, which include raising information security awareness among the public and private sector. However, industry experts warn that levels of awareness among many commercial organisations across the Middle East remain low.

The amount of data produced annually in the MENA region will grow by more than 600% by 2020, according to a study by the US-based multinational EMC Corporation published in September. This data growth will be driven by a combination of “the aggressive penetration of social platforms and mobility in addition to heavy penetration of video surveillance across key verticals like oil and gas, aviation, hospitality, retail and finance, in addition to the many ambitious smart city initiatives in play all across the region,” said EMC senior vice-president and regional manager Mohammad Ameen.

However, only 47% of data being generated in the region is protected, Ameen added. “This points to a grave concern for the future. As the amount of information continues to amplify, it opens more doors for cyber criminals to exploit mounds of increasingly vulnerable information assets,” he warned.

For cyber security consultants and suppliers, on the other hand, this explosion of data opens up vast opportunities. An estimate by the Texas-based global consulting firm MarketsandMarkets forecast that the Middle East cyber security market would grow from the current figure of around $ 5.2 billion to reach $ 9.5 billion by 2019, with Saudi Arabia expected to be the largest market in terms of spending on products and services.

For the time being, however, cyber regulation in much of the Middle East remains poor and ill-defined. While laws dedicated to combating cyber crime do exist, often they do not reflect rapid changes in technology, or are used to monitor online dissent rather than addressing the real threat

For cyber security consultants and suppliers, on the other hand, this explosion of data opens up vast opportunities. An estimate by the Texas-based global consulting firm MarketsandMarkets forecast that the Middle East cyber security market would grow from the current figure of around $ 5.2 billion to reach $ 9.5 billion by 2019, with Saudi Arabia expected to be the largest market in terms of spending on products and services.

For the time being, however, cyber regulation in much of the Middle East remains poor and ill-defined. While laws dedicated to combating cyber crime do exist, often they do not reflect rapid changes in technology, or are used to monitor online dissent rather than addressing the real threat. 

 

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