An eye online: Cybersecurity gets more attention in the region

Regional and global trends indicate people are conducting an increasing number of transactions over digital networks and storing more of their data online. This has shifted the security requirements of governments, corporations and citizens alike, as high-profile security breaches at large corporations and government offices around the globe have brought the issue of securing digital content into focus over the past decade.

Kuwait, which depends heavily on its oil and gas industry, is particularly aware of the need to improve the protection of its assets and information through a greater focus on digital safeguards and cybersecurity. The Kuwait Petroleum Corporation – the country’s national oil and gas company – and energy majors across the region have seen a rise in the number of cyberattacks in recent years. In 2012, Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, was hit by a major virus that wiped out data on some 30,000 workstations.

In 2013, oil and gas companies across the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, received warnings of impending cyberattacks on their systems in protest of rising oil prices in the US. Furthermore, in 2014 there were several high-profile threats on Kuwait and its neighbours from another group of hackers based in the Middle East that were protesting the use of the US dollar to buy and sell oil and gas.

DEMANDING PROTECTION: Businesses and government agencies in Kuwait and across the GCC are increasingly demanding services that help protect on-site data and information stored at remote locations via the internet. Modern enterprises and industries are highly dependent on complex integrated computer systems that are connected through the web, making them vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Despite evidence of the vulnerabilities in IT systems and the growth in demand, Kuwait is still not prepared for sophisticated cyberattacks. A survey conducted by Gulf Business Machines in 2013, for example, highlighted that while 71% of IT experts in Kuwait believe the country will be a target for hackers, nearly one-third of businesses do not have adequate systems to secure their data. Still, helping companies and government agencies protect against cyberattacks is a growing business in Kuwait and the broader region. MarketsandMarkets, a market research firm, indicates that the Middle East cybersecurity market is worth over $5bn and is expected to grow to almost $10bn by 2019.

MARKET SEARCH: Western cybersecurity firms have actively targeted Kuwait to encourage the development of systems and processes that help protect against cyberthreats. The US, home to a number of major global cybersecurity firms, has identified Kuwait as a major market for cybersecurity exports. (https://aaluminum.com/) A 2014 report from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership identified key opportunities within surveillance, scanning and security systems as well as consulting services for planning and security management. The report estimates the market for cybersecurity solutions will be worth $1bn in Kuwait alone.

Booz Allen Hamilton, an American defence consulting firm, established a cyberoperations office in Kuwait in 2012 to pursue security projects for the government and for commercial partners. Other American firms, including Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, have also started developing programmes to support cybersecurity initiatives in Kuwait. British firms are also eyeing the market following a $2.4bn deal between the two governments to share expertise on security. Known as the Kuwait Security Programme, the deal includes a major focus on cybersecurity.

Although cybersecurity will remain a challenge for the future of the ICT sector, it will also bring significant opportunities for new businesses to provide protection against cyberthreats. In addition to the bigger opportunities within Kuwait’s big oil and gas projects, the government’s push to establish a strong digital presence, evidenced by efforts to shift a number of functions online under various e-government initiatives, will require a number of core cyberprotection services and should help incubate a local cybersecurity industry.