Experts warn businesses in Saudi Arabia to ramp up their cybersecurity

The ignorance of cybersecurity measures and lack of awareness are the two fundamental loopholes that enable hackers to compromise sensitive data. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 06 December 2020

Experts warn businesses in Saudi Arabia to ramp up their cybersecurity

  • From hackers demanding ransoms to email viruses, Saudi executives should act to protect their businesses from attack

RIYADH: As Saudi companies become more technologically advanced, cybersecurity experts have warned of a general lack of awareness about industry best practices and are worried that businesses are not adequately protecting their systems.

A survey commissioned earlier this year by cybersecurity firm Tenable found that 95 percent of businesses in the Kingdom last year were the victim of a cyberattack.

In addition, 85 percent of Saudi respondents said that they had witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of attacks over the past two years. Companies said they had suffered loss of customer or employee data, ransomware payment demands and financial loss or theft.

Cybersecurity Ventures, a US-based researcher and publisher in this sector, estimated that the global cost of cybercrime could reach $10.5 trillion by 2025.

The rising number of cases, combined with the huge financial impact, will hopefully spur Saudi business executives into action, said Dr. Muhammad Khurram Khan, professor of cybersecurity at King Saud University and founder and CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research.

“This huge and lucrative price tag entices hackers and cybercriminals to innovate their hacking tactics against individuals and organizations. The ignorance of cybersecurity measures and lack of awareness are the two fundamental loopholes that enable hackers to compromise sensitive data and perform financial fraud,” Khan told Arab News.

Cybersecurity risks can take many shapes and forms, from phishing (impersonating a legitimate organization to access sensitive personal information) to malware (malicious software created to cause damage to a computer or server). Types of malware include viruses, ransomware or spyware, while hacking takes place when outsiders gain unauthorized access to a computer from a distance by exploiting weaknesses in a computer’s defenses.

All of these are serious issues, and the region’s experts have urged computer users to become more cautious about their online security.

Mimecast, an international company specializing in cloud-based email management, highlighted the dangers of phishing. 

“Scams are becoming increasingly difficult to identify, so the average user might not be able to spot fake messages if they haven’t had the necessary cybersecurity awareness training,” said Maen Ftouni, country manager for Mimecast, Saudi Arabia.

Mimecast’s State of Email Security 2020 report states that 74 percent of organizations in Saudi Arabia are concerned about a web domain, brand exploitation or site spoofing attack. The report also found that 48 percent of organizations had seen an increase in phishing over the past 12 months.

“Phishing scams are everywhere, and individuals need to be constantly alert and on the lookout for malicious emails and text messages to avoid falling victim to these increasingly sophisticated attacks. Your bank will never ask you to update information via a link, so if you receive a message like this, alarm bells should be ringing,” Ftouni said.

Another threat is the growing incidences of ransomware, a type of malware that allows hackers to block access to a victim’s data, or in some cases to publish it, unless a ransom is paid. For many companies this could be their worst nightmare as sensitive data is placed in the public domain.

Veritas Technologies, an international data management and protection company, stated in its annual ransomware resiliency report that only 36 percent of respondents said that their security had kept pace with their IT complexity (43 and 39 percent in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, respectively).

According to Veritas, some businesses that fall victim to ransomware and are not able to restore their data from a backup copy of their files may look to pay the hackers to return their information. Its research showed that companies with greater complexity in their multi-cloud infrastructure were more likely to make these payments.

Johnny Karam, vice president of emerging markets at Veritas, said that cloud technology was offering some solutions, but he warned that Saudi business owners should not get too comfortable just yet.

“Whilst this is positive news, our research shows that there is still more that needs to be done. For instance, 29 percent of businesses’ data protection strategies in KSA aren’t keeping pace with the levels of complexity that they’re introducing. As a result, the majority of businesses are feeling the impact of ransomware more acutely,” Karam said.

Businesses of all sizes should be concerned about their security, said Saudi cybersecurity expert, Abdullah Al-Jaber, and small-scale entrepreneurs should not assume it is a problem only for big corporations.

“Even small businesses such as local shops are getting hit and losing their data due to their lack of cybersecurity protections. Large organizations are getting more mature and protecting their systems, and attackers are moving to small- and medium-sized organizations where they lack security awareness and controls. Even individuals can be subject to targeting,” he warned.

Al-Jaber applauds the new government improvements being implemented by the National Cybersecurity Authority (NCA) and the new Saudi Cybersecurity strategy, and recommends that those concerned brush up on their cybersecurity protocols to ensure that they are being protected.

“Having backups, applying the system updates regularly and making sure the systems are not exposed to the Internet, as well as using complex passwords and enabling two-factor authentication, will reduce the risks significantly,” he said.

So, no matter what size a company is or what sector it is involved in, good cybersecurity and data protection are priorities that no business should ignore.


China economy grows in 2020 as rebound from coronavirus gains

Updated 18 January 2021

China economy grows in 2020 as rebound from coronavirus gains

  • Growth in the three months ending in December rose to 6.5 percent over a year earlier
  • China’s quick recovery brought it closer to matching the US in economic output

BEIJING: China eked out 2.3 percent economic growth in 2020, likely becoming the only major economy to expand as shops and factories reopened relatively early from a shutdown to fight the coronavirus while the United States, Japan and Europe struggled with rising infections.
Growth in the three months ending in December rose to 6.5 percent over a year earlier as consumers returned to shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas, official data showed Monday. That was up from the previous quarter’s 4.9 percent and stronger than many forecasters expected.
In early 2020, activity contracted by 6.8 percent in the first quarter as the ruling Communist Party took the then-unprecedented step of shutting down most of its economy to fight the virus. The following quarter, China became the first major country to grow again with a 3.2 percent expansion after the party declared victory over the virus in March and allowed factories, shops and offices to reopen.
Restaurants are filling up while cinemas and retailers struggle to lure customers back. Crowds are thin at shopping malls, where guards check visitors for signs of the disease’s tell-tale fever.
Domestic tourism is reviving, though authorities have urged the public to stay home during the Lunar New Year holiday in February, normally the busiest travel season, in response to a spate of new infections in some Chinese cities.
Exports have been boosted by demand for Chinese-made masks and other medical goods.
The growing momentum “reflected improving private consumption expenditure as well as buoyant net exports,” said Rajiv Biswas of IHS Markit in a report. He said China is likely to be the only major economy to grow in 2020 while developed countries and most major emerging markets were in recession.
The economy “recovered steadily” and “living standards were ensured forcefully,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement. It said the ruling party’s development goals were “accomplished better than expectation” but gave no details.
2020 was China’s weakest growth in decades and below 1990’s 3.9 percent following the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, which led to China’s international isolation.
Despite growth for the year, “it is too early to conclude that this is a full recovery,” said Iris Pang of ING in a report. “External demand has not yet fully recovered. This is a big hurdle.”
Exporters and high-tech manufacturers face uncertainty about how President-elect Joseph Biden will handle conflicts with Beijing over trade, technology and security. His predecessor, Donald Trump, hurt exporters by hiking tariffs on Chinese goods and manufacturers including telecom equipment giant Huawei by imposing curbs on access to US components and technology.
“We expect the newly elected US government will continue most of the current policies on China, at least for the first quarter,” Pang said.
The International Monetary Fund and private sector forecasters expect economic growth to rise further this year to above 8 percent.
China’s quick recovery brought it closer to matching the United States in economic output.
Total activity in 2020 was 102 trillion yuan ($15.6 trillion), according to the government. That is about 75 percent the size of the $20.8 trillion forecast by the IMF for the US economy, which is expected to shrink by 4.3 percent from 2019. The IMF estimates China will be about 90 percent of the size of the US economy by 2025, though with more than four times as many people average income will be lower.
Exports rose 3.6 percent last year despite the tariff war with Washington. Exporters took market share from foreign competitors that still faced anti-virus restrictions.
Retail spending contracted by 3.9 percent over 2019 but gained 4.6 percent in December over a year earlier as demand revived. Consumer spending recovered to above the previous year’s levels in the quarter ending in September.
Online sales of consumer goods rose 14.8 percent as millions of families who were ordered to stay home shifted to buying groceries and clothing on the Internet.
Factory output rose 2.8 percent over 2019. Activity accelerated toward the end of the year. Production rose 7.3 percent in December.
Despite travel controls imposed for some areas after new cases flared this month most of the country is unaffected.
Still, the government’s appeal to the public to avoid traditional Lunar New Year gatherings and travel might dent spending on tourism, gifts and restaurants.
Other activity might increase, however, if farms, factories and traders keep operating over the holiday, said Chaoping Zhu of JP Morgan Asset Management in a report.
“Unusually high growth rates in this quarter are likely to be seen,” said Zhu.