Complex Made Simple

Cyber security an economic opportunity for Arab world

* Cybercrime affecting 30 per cent of organisations in Middle east

* In 2013, Saudi Aramco had 30,000 computers affected by malware


It’s easy to see cyber security as a necessary, if vital, response to a threat. But it can be something more than that; one of the key drivers for economic diversification in the GCC and the Arab world. We should redouble our efforts to encourage young people into the sector.


We live in troubled times; terrorism, state conflict and crime fill the headlines every day and in recent years, cyber threats have become an addition to this catalogue of threats. We shouldn’t be naive, the threat from cyber attacks is real and growing; cybercrime is the second most reported crime faced by businesses in the Middle East, affecting 30 per cent of organisations. This is above world trends; 42 per cent of respondents in the region said they had suffered high or medium level damage to their reputation as a result of cyber-attacks, compared to 30 per cent globally.


The economic and physical geography of the GCC makes it vulnerable to cyber attacks, large populations are supported by economies where hydrocarbon production still remains a key engine of growth. Energy installations, because of their lynchpin role, are a tempting target for malign state actors and terrorists; in 2013 Saudi Aramco had 30,000 computers affected by malware. This threat is likely to grow ever more acute as industrial control systems become linked to the wider internet.


The threats are numerous, and I’ve commented on them in detail elsewhere, but for every threat there is an opportunity. Cyber security must be more than a response, it can with the right nurturing, become one of the lead technology sectors driving the economic diversification that is vital if the region is to provide jobs, prosperity and dynamism for its young people.


In the past the GCC and the Arab world have lacked the depth of expertise necessary to compete on information technology with the established centres of the US and Europe, but that’s changing. The UAE government has pioneered the development of smart cities, providing information on everything from traffic flows to energy usage to technically savvy entrepreneurs. But the real potential for transformation lies with the Arab world’s young people. This is a generation who are technological natives, growing up connected to their smart devices and showing some of the highest usages of social media applications such as Twitter anywhere on the planet. What’s more, they don’t have the expectation of a job for life; 39 per cent would like to start their own business and of those, 16 per cent want to do so in technology, the most popular sector surveyed.


There have already been many successful Arabian technology start-ups, often focused on that other great global passion – shopping, but there’s huge scope to turn cyber security into one of the most desirable fields for young people in the GCC and Middle East. The region has all the necessary ingredients; huge talent, government commitment, and technological familiarity. Sadly, it also has an acute awareness of the reality and closeness of threats from malign actors.


Working hand-in-hand, governments and the private sector can help turn cyber security into a real area of strength for the region, ultimately turning it into an export on the global market. From a government perspective, this means supporting technical education and providing a regulatory environment that encourages entrepreneurship and provides start-ups with the information they require to develop. 68 per cent of young people in the GCC are confident in their governments’ ability to deliver on employment; cyber security can turn that expectation into a reality. The private sector should complement these government initiatives by providing a jobs, commercial focus and in-house training.


Working together we can ensure that the cyber security becomes an economic opportunity and export it to the rest of the world.