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State of Cyber Security in the Middle East


I just spent a week in several new geographical markets for Menlo Security, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, meeting and talking to new and existing customers. Online risks are no different in the Middle East than they are in the USA, Asia or Europe. The risks may have different names, but the impact remains the same.

Time and time again last week I heard about the Shamoon attack from our customers and partners. Shamoon dates back to a set of targeted cyber attacks in the Middle East in 2012. The group came back to life in late 2016 with some high impact cyber attacks on organisations across many different market verticals (McAfee has an excellent writeup here).

The Shamoon attack resonated with all of the customers I met and spoke with, as it began with a set of spear-phishing emails with the objective of stealing user credentials. As I see every week, spear-phishing emails evade detection and fool users on a regular basis -- as they are too well written to be detected as malicious by legacy anti-phishing and anti-malware technologies. Our recent research paper on spear-phishing is available here.

Other than Shamoon, other key things from my visit established some interesting data points that we see playing out globally across other markets.

These include:

  • Legal challenges - Both the UAE and Qatar have laws in place to protect information leaving their countries' digital borders. This ensures businesses cannot use VPN, TOR or web proxies that exist outside the UAE or Qatar to access the web.
  • Form-factor - Cloud adoption remains low in part due to legal restrictions on businesses, as noted above. It's interesting to note that cloud providers such as Amazon do not have any infrastructure yet in this area of the Middle East, either. The net result drives customers to purchase on-premises technology or work with local Managed Service providers to consume a service.
  • Hacking - Cyber attacks continue to raise awareness of the need for enhanced security on web and email channels and existing solutions continue to fall short of customer expectations.

The Middle East market has some market verticals that are very high risk. Oil & gas businesses are hugely lucrative, big targets to go after, and as we see with Shamoon and other attacks, existing security controls fail to prevent these high impact attacks.

Isolation offers customers a new approach. Customers using our Isolation technology no longer deal with ransomware attacks, nor do they have to report mis-categorised sites and create productivity issues for sites employees are blocked from due to security concerns. Not trying to find good or bad phish links, or playing whack-a-mole with new threats, is now off the table with Isolation. If every URL is opened in an isolated, secure container every time, whatever the email takes the employee to is safe by default, and can even put the page in read-only to stop employees giving away credentials.

We are creating something new and unique for our customers at Menlo Security to solve the problems of email and web-based tracks once and for all. Our recognition late last year by JP Morgan Chase as JPMC Hall of Innovation Award 2016 is testament to this.

We are speaking at e-Crime and Cybersecurity Dubai 2017 next Wednesday, March 29, and would love to speak with you if you are attending to discuss how Isolation can reduce cyber risks for your business.

Tags: isolation, credential theft, malware vulnerabilities, spear-phishing, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Shamoon attack, cyber attacks

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