Tough on crime: Updated legislation is tackling a new criminal trend


The cybersecurity industry in Abu Dhabi is in the midst of a rapid expansionary period, driven by the rising incidence of cybercrime across the UAE, as well as growing interest in cybersecurity innovation within both the private sector and academia. Although the emirate’s cybersecurity industry remains in its early stages and awareness is limited among many public and private entities in the UAE, Abu Dhabi is set to take a leading role in cybersecurity innovation through new private sector product and service offerings, as well as efforts to advance the cybersecurity research agenda at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD).

Crime Costs

In November 2016 Norton Middle East told local media that cybercrime had cost the UAE Dh5.14bn ($1.4bn) in the first 11 months of 2016 alone, even as global cybercrime costs were forecast to drop by 16% to $125.9bn in 2016. According to the company, cybercrime costs nearly $358 per person annually on average around the world, enough for a year of home security monitoring. Tamim Taufiq, head of the company’s Middle East division, also said the UAE had become a prime target due to comparatively high levels of smartphone adoption – the smartphone penetration rate is approximately 70% – as well as take up of new technologies and risky consumer behaviour. Lack of awareness is also a factor, particularly in relation to more costly incidents of corporate cybercrime.

In June 2016 international cybersecurity firm DarkMatter, which is based in Abu Dhabi, reported that 48% of respondents to its latest poll said their organisations did not have a senior management executive assigned to oversee cybersecurity activities. Another 46% of respondents said their organisations did not have a board-level representative for cybersecurity.

Private Ventures

The UAE government has moved to clamp down on cybercrime in recent years, launching the National Electronic Security Authority in 2012, as well as a tough cybercrime law (see IT overview). Public efforts to strengthen cybersecurity also offer new opportunities to the private sector and academia. Frost & Sullivan reported in May 2016 that in the GCC regional security spending is forecast to grow to more than $1bn by 2018, up from $340m in 2012. Private firms such as DarkMatter have already won government contracts to design and implement initiatives aimed at bolstering cybersecurity in the UAE, including an identity management system linked to the Emirates ID card (see IT overview). In a June 2016 interview with Dubai-based daily Khaleej Times, Faisal Al Bannai, CEO of DarkMatter, stated that the firm plans to launch several new products in the UAE during the first half of 2017 that will foster development of home-grown, internationally competitive technology, patents and intellectual property. Its growth target for 2016 was 300%, according to Al Bannai, and the company plans to expand its operations beyond the UAE to become a global provider of cybersecurity services.

In August 2016 Smartworld, a joint venture between urban property development Dubai South and Abu Dhabi-headquartered national telecoms operator Etisalat, announced that it had signed a deal with private company The Kernel to establish a cybersecurity centre. The Kernel, which has partnered with leading security firms in Russia and around the globe, is set to provide round-the-clock monitoring and cyber threat management support to public and private firms.

Nyuad Initiatives

Abu Dhabi’s academic community is also moving to address the issue, and in October 2016 local media reported that students at NYUAD are moving forward with a plan to test components produced at Global Foundries, a subsidiary of Mubadala Investment Company, which manufactures some of its semiconductors from a fabrication facility in upstate New York. Some $10bn has been invested in the venture, and the university has created a test bed for the devices on campus. The experiment involved mapping the UAE and New York power grids to simulate a situation in which semiconductors are hacked externally.