Saudi Arabia steps up its cybersecurity spend

Steve Evans

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Countries across the Middle East are being increasingly targeted for cyberattacks, and none more than Saudi Arabia. But its government is taking steps to combat the threat, from new rules and regulations to increased education.

Research recently released looking at cybersecurity in Saudi Arabia has revealed just how critical the topic has become for the kingdom, particularly within the energy, financial services, IT and communications industries.

According to research firm MicroMarketMonitor, the Saudi Arabian cybersecurity market is expected to grow to over $3.48 billion by 2019, at a growth rate of 14.5 per cent. Another report, meanwhile, claims that the Saudi Arabia cybersecurity export industry will grow 30 per cent between 2014 and 2016 to $37.5 billion, as companies selling cybersecurity tools grasp this new opportunity.

Middle East cyberattacks

Saudi Arabia, and indeed the entire Middle East region, is a growing target for cybercriminals. Booming economies, high internet penetration and mobile usage, and a highly sophisticated infrastructure make it a target for hackers. In one of the most famous recent cases, Saudi oil giant Aramco was hit by a cyberattack that wiped 35,000 computers within a few hours, and took the company’s network offline – orders had to be processed by faxes and typewriters.

The Middle East was also the victim of another infamous cyberattack. Stuxnet is considered the world’s first digital weapon. Targeted at Iran’s nuclear systems, it caused a series of incidents that damaged both digital and physical systems.

Cyber-defence efforts increasing

It’s no surprise then to see the government in Saudi Arabia taking steps to tackle the growing threat of cybercrime. The National Information Security Strategy (NISS) is a far-reaching program that aims to “increase the security, safety and integrity of online information, while promoting the increased use of information technology, develop resilience in information systems [and] increase awareness and education of security risks and responsibility of information protection.”

It also aims to “create a set of national guidelines for information security management, risk management and business continuity based on international standards and best practices.”

The Saudi government has taken steps to implement strong regulatory and legislative frameworks to support its cyber-safety. And, given the importance of oil to the nation’s success, it’s no surprise that on top of NISS it invests heavily in systems that add to the cyber-defences of the energy industry.

Around the region

It’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s beefing up cyber-defences. Across the Middle East, governments are recognising the threat posed by hackers and malware – UAE authorities describe it as “one of the biggest economic and national security challenges countries face in the 21st century.”

The cyber-threats against Saudi Arabia are not unique – countries across the region face the same issues. As governments and businesses endure more and more cyberattacks, it’s not surprising to see them boost their defences.