Saudi cybersecurity landscape improving

Dr. Moataz Bin Ali

RIYADH — If reports of an improving cybersecurity landscape are any indication, it appears that Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation strategy is well on track. Newly released statistics from Trend Micro Incorporated, a global leader in cybersecurity solutions, revealed that the Kingdom’s vulnerability to malicious online attacks has decreased. Numbers for KSA in Q1 of 2018 show marked improvements against previous tallies, with a sum of 2.7 million malware detections and 9.5 million ransomware threats, or 0.55% of the 1.7 billion ransomware attacks globally.

The KSA government has been exerting great efforts to fast-forward its technology capabilities in line with Saudi Vision 2030 towards becoming a leading digital economy. Industry veterans have lauded the public sector’s commitment in adopting forward-thinking technology policies, spearheading initiatives across healthcare, education, skills development and cybersecurity, among others.

Dr. Moataz Bin Ali, VP for Trend Micro Middle East and North Africa, specifically cited the creation of the national cybersecurity agency as a key component and an enabler of Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation. “Technology is at the core of the new national agenda and the move towards a digitized economy would mean that massive amounts of data – if not all – can be exploited by cybercriminals. This makes the government and businesses alike vulnerable to debilitating cyberattacks. The fact that the government understands and recognizes the vital importance of cybersecurity bodes well in an already promising market,” Dr. Ali said.

Malware threats in the Kingdom was at its highest in the first month of the year when 921,512 infected files were detected by Trend Micro. It dwindled down to 898,093 in February and saw a slight uptick in March, reaching 904,983. Trend Micro also revealed that online banking malwares for Q1 of 2018 stood at 636, while macro malware total was 206 in the same period.

Ransomware remains a major threat, especially in a country of over 32 million people and one of the largest ICT market in the Gulf. Yet, Saudi Arabia fared well in dodging ransomware attacks, landing only on the third spot in the whole of the Middle East behind Iran and Israel, which accounted for 1.66% and 1.44% respectively of global ransomware threats.

Trend Micro also reported that there were 560,268 malicious URL victims in the first quarter of the year. Moreover, the number of times a malicious URL hosted in KSA was blocked by Trend Micro was 726, while the number of email threats blocked via sender IP in the Kingdom stood at over 50.6 million.

While lauding the significant gains already achieved by the KSA ICT sector, Dr. Ali underscored the need to continue improving knowledge and expertise in cybersecurity, especially among local talent. “Trend Micro is committed to promoting a good safety culture to further mitigate risks to data and networks. As part of this commitment, we offer training programs while exploring other learning venues to enhance the skills of local talent and at the same time increase awareness on the importance of a secure cyberspace,” Dr. Ali concluded. — SG