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Here’s the number one bot-infected GCC country

Today, we have health, cars, houses, ACs, parking lots, TVs, electric meters and a bunch of other things on the IoT list and they are ready to be made smarter and more connected.

Among the examples on this in the GCC are Etisalat’s partnership with Huawei to launch the first NB-IoT-based smart parking pilot trial network in the UAE and Saudi’s Huawei IoT platform OceanConnect to develop smart home and telematics applications.

But a recent report shows that the more we are connected, the more we are infected.

A year after the Mirai botnet’s first major attack – which brought much of the internet to a standstill – Norton by Symantec, the cyber security company, reveals how the global botnet has grown and which countries and cities unwittingly played host to the greatest number of bot infections.

Around 6.7 million more bots joined the global botnet in 2016, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) made up nearly 11.4 per cent of the Middle East’s total bot population.

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Top bot carriers in the Middle East

– Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ranked first in the GCC for the highest source of bot infections. It also ranked fourth in the Middle East with 43.1 per cent of bots in the region;

– Dubai, United Arab Emirates, ranked second most bot-infected city in the GCC and sixth in the Middle East with 24.7 percent of bots in the region;

– Kuwait City, Kuwait, ranked third most bot-infected city in the GCC and tenth in the Middle East with 13.2 percent of bots in the region.

How do bots misbehave?

Bots are internet-connected devices of any kind, such as laptops, phones, IoT devices, which are infected with malware that allow hackers to remotely take control of many devices at a time, typically without the knowledge of the device owner.

Combined, these devices form powerful bot networks (botnets) that can spread malware, generate spam and commit other types of crime and fraud online.

“The GCC is widely considered a region that adopts new technologies more readily when compared to other global markets. But there seems to be a limited awareness amongst consumers about the various risks associated with using internet-connected devices.

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In fact, more than 2.53 million consumers in the UAE were victims of online crime in the past year, and bots and botnets are a key tool in the cyber attacker’s arsenal,” commented Tamim Taufiq, Head of Norton Middle East.

“It’s not just computers that are providing criminals with their robot army; in 2016, we saw cybercriminals making increasing use of smartphones and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to strengthen their botnet ranks. Servers also offer a much larger bandwidth capacity for a DDoS attack than traditional consumer PCs,” added Taufiq.

IoT complicates things  

IoT devices may be part of the uptick in global bot infections in 2016. During its peak last year, when the Mirai botnet – made up of almost half a million internet-connected devices such as IP cameras and home routers – was expanding rapidly, attacks on IoT devices were taking place every two minutes.

Unbeknown to the device owners, one in 50 IoT attacks originated from devices in the Middle East alone. The UAE accounted for five per cent of IoT attacks coming from the Middle East in 2016.

The ratio of bots per internet-connected user in the GCC was significant as well. There is one bot for every 20 internet users in Kuwait; one bot for every 28 internet users in the UAE; and one bot for every 35 internet users in KSA. The number is lower for Oman, where there is 1 bot for every 50 Internet users.

Strong connections

Research from Gartner says that 8.4 billion connected “things” will be in use in 2017, up by 31 per cent from 2016, and will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. Total spending on endpoints and services will reach almost $2 trillion in 2017. 

The consumer segment is the largest user of connected things with 5.2 billion units in 2017, and businesses are on pace to employ 3.1 billion connected things in 2017, as per the report. By 2020, hardware spending from both segments will reach almost $3trn.

A Deloitte 2017 technology report predicts that connected entertainment (video streaming, smart TVs and wireless speakers among others) and connected health devices (wearables, etc.) have already reached a certain level of maturity in the GCC and will grow in revenues at an average of ten per cent and 20 per cent, respectively in 2017.

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A youth-driven growth

The GCC market has several inherent characteristics that could drive uptake of consumer IoT devices. The most significant (IoT) driver is a very young and highly tech-savvy population, with more than 60 per cent of the population in the GCC below the age of 30 and 64 per cent of the population owning a smartphone, with the UAE having the highest smartphone adoption rate in the world at 83 per cent.

This only means that bots will thrive unless something is done to stop them.