How Saudi Arabia is building cyber resilience while accelerating digital transformation

27/06/21

The Kingdom has made notable progress in international indicators. KSA’s cybersecurity professionals are getting a boost through training initiatives to meet the growing threat of cyberattacks. (Reuters/File Photo)

As the Internet claims an ever-greater share of daily life, opportunities for cybercrime have increased greatly
Authorities are waging a digital war to protect citizens and companies from high-tech criminal underworld
RIYADH: The Internet is home to some extremely malevolent behavior. A range of bad actors is intent on stealing people’s money, information and identities, and on crippling essential services.

Of the countless entities and individuals targeted, some of the more prominent are Saudi Aramco, Bangladesh Bank, Colonial Pipeline, the Democratic Party of the US, and the UK’s House of Commons. In 2015, the self-proclaimed Yemen Cyber Army attacked the Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In common with other GCC states, Saudi Arabia is a prime target of cybercrime, for several reasons. It is a wealthy country with a digitally active population, is positioned at the center of the global energy sector, and located in a region with no shortage of geopolitical tensions. It is also home to Saudi Aramco, among the world’s most valuable companies.

The Kingdom’s vulnerable position was highlighted in 2012 when the Shamoon virus crippled a significant portion of Saudi Aramco’s IT network. Shamoon was one of the most destructive cyberattacks on any business up to that time, and forced Aramco to shut down and literally replace a large proportion of its computers. The same malware has resurfaced over the years, causing further mayhem in every case.

Identifying perpetrators is fraught because they take great effort to conceal identities, and typically adopt the techniques, procedures and languages of other suspect actors. And when a virus is brought under control, a new one, or a more destructive mutation of the original, may be unleashed on unsuspecting populations and underprepared corporations.

Shamoon was highly publicized, but many GCC companies and organizations continue to face similar attacks from the likes of Morris Worm, Nimda, Iloveyou, Slammer and Stuxnet.

As the Internet claims an ever-greater share of people’s daily lives, the opportunity for cybercrime increases exponentially. The Internet of Things (IoT) may enable a fridge to order fresh milk from the supermarket automatically, and an expat’s currency to arrive in the form of blockchain, but this only broadens the range of potential cyber targets.

Khalid Al-Harbi, Saudi Aramco’s chief information security officer, was quoted by Reuters as saying: “The pattern of cyberattacks is cyclical. We are seeing that the magnitude is increasing, and I would suspect that this will continue to be a trend.”

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in cybercrime. As the contagion forced many companies to introduce working from home, malicious actors were able to take advantage of the typically reduced IT security of remote workers. The global police body Interpol reported a spike in both malware and spam in the months after the pandemic took hold — affecting the GCC as much as the rest of the world.

Remote staff are the weakest link of any network. No matter how many millions an organization may spend on developing a robust IT firewall at the office, that advanced security can be undone by the easy or predictable password of a negligent individual working from home, the click on a dubious link, or the unwise sharing of personal data on social media.

In a white paper released by the International Data Corporation, Uzair Mujtaba, its program manager for Saudi Arabia, observed that “as endpoints become increasingly disparate, the attack surface will expand significantly, and this is compelling technology and security leaders to adopt innovative approaches to cybersecurity.”

According to a new report by VMware, an American cloud computing and virtualization technology company, nearly 93 percent of the 252 organizations it surveyed in Saudi Arabia experienced a cyberattack in the past year.

The findings, a part of VMware’s Global Security Insights Report, came from an online survey conducted in December 2020 of 3,542 chief information security officers (CISOs), chief information officers (CIOs), and chief technology officers (CTOs).

The average number of breaches suffered by each organization was 2.47 over the past year, while 11 percent of respondents said their organizations had been breached between 5 to 10 times.

Some 80 percent of respondents agreed that they need to view security differently than they did in the past due to an expanded attack surface prompted by the pandemic.

FASTFACTS
* Among the viruses causing the biggest havoc are Stuxnet, NotPetya and Lockergoga.

* Perpetrators include Unit 74455 of Russia’s GRU military intelligence, North Korea’s Bureau 39, Iran’s Cyber Army.

Responding to this growing threat, the Kingdom has positioned itself at the global forefront of cyber defense. The Shamoon incident of 2012 was a wake-up call, prompting the Saudi government to focus and mobilize resources for the creation of an entire cybersecurity ecosystem to confront both local and foreign adversaries.

This is a key element of Vision 2030. The National Cybersecurity Authority (NCA) was established by a royal decree in October 2017 and is mandated with implementing the National Information Security Strategy — formalizing a Kingdom-wide framework for cybersecurity, risk mitigation, and resilience via governance policies, standards, cyber-defense operations, and development of human capital and local industry capabilities.

The NCA’s stated mission is to “work closely with public and private entities to improve the cybersecurity posture of the country in order to safeguard its vital interests, national security, critical infrastructures, high-priority sectors, and government services and activities in alignment with Vision 2030.”

That sounds like a tall order, but the Kingdom is already a leader in terms of cyber vigilance, with a formidable knowledge base. Indeed, in 2020, the World Competitiveness Center ranked Saudi Arabia as second globally in “the field of continuous improvement of corporate cybersecurity.”

Speaking to Arab News, Haider Pasha, chief technology officer at Symantec Middle East, said: “You need to really understand where your sensitive data is, where the assets are, and have a robust strategy or framework that you can abide by. I see that happening more and more in Saudi Arabia.”

Every country is facing the threat of cybercrime, but the Kingdom is at the front line of this battle given its rapid pace of transformation and already advanced IT and AI infrastructure. Saudi government ministries are designing proprietary cybersecurity programs as opposed to merely installing products and fixes.

An example of this combination of transformation and high-tech is the Kingdom’s push toward “smart cities” — in which citizens have online access to most, if not all, private and public services, and can easily interact with various government agencies.

Riyadh is one such place, while NEOM, the $500 billion development in the northwest of the Kingdom, is emerging as the first large-scale urban project to be designed and built from the ground up in the era of artificial intelligence.

NEOM, envisaged as a cluster of smart urban spaces, can leapfrog older cities by using cutting-edge and integrated technologies, specifically in the realm of cyberspace.

Cyber resilience is critical to the ambitions of NEOM and other developments, whose expected dependence on AI, e-commerce, IoT and blockchain technology means that the Internet will remain a battleground in which national authorities must constantly enhance the defense of their populations from an evermore sophisticated criminal underworld.

Fortunately, the decision-makers of Saudi Arabia are doing just that.

This article was first published in Arab News

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KSA Fashion Commission backs luxury designs with 100 Saudi Brands program

04/06/2021

The program will help build 100 Saudi brands that are able to compete regionally and internationally. (Screenshot)

The authority invited those wishing to take part in the program to register before June 20
The program offers a one-year package of training and guidance programs

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Fashion Commission has launched the “100 Saudi Brands” program, which aims to support the business development of 100 Saudi designers and luxury brands, providing Saudi fashion products with international competitive standards.
The authority invited those wishing to take part in the program to register via the website https://saudi100brands.com before June 20.
The program offers a one-year package of training and guidance programs, and includes sessions for groups and individuals, along with virtual and physical training workshops to develop competitive business advantages in the Saudi fashion industry.
Course topics will include brand review and mentoring, training in defining brand concepts, sales performance strategies, public relations and marketing strategies, methods for finding and identifying particular clients, innovations, technology and leadership skills.
The program’s stages include activities presented to the consumer to encourage sales in the local market, the first of which will be held in Riyadh in December, the activation of electronic sales outlets in January, and a campaign targeting wholesales in order to activate international sales in February.
The program will help build 100 Saudi brands that are able to compete regionally and internationally, within the framework of the Fashion Commission to develop the fashion sector in the Kingdom in all its legislative and regulatory aspects, and to support and empower its workers, including creators and investors.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Youth in Saudi Arabia’s Jazan region dive into the world of roasting, selling coffee

30/05/2021

The recent surge in coffee shops has created jobs for young people in Jazan who, despite their age, have transformed into barista coffee makers and providers. (SPA)
Modern cafe houses are one of the most developed commercial activities in the Jazan region over the past three years

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia among top 10 countries in digital literacy: WEF report

Time: 17 December 2020

The report recognized the importance of digital transformation in the recovery of countries. (File/Shutterstock)
  • The Global Competitiveness Report this year focused on how countries are adapting to the changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia ranked among the top ten countries in digital literacy in a report by the World Economic Forum, the Saudi Press Agency has reported.
The Kingdom joins other developed nations in the list of countries whose “active population possess sufficient digital skills,” including Singapore, Denmark, and Finland leading the pack.
The Global Competitiveness Report this year focused on how countries are adapting to the changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report recognized the importance of digital transformation in the recovery of countries, particularly noting four factors including digital legal framework and the flexibility of work arrangements.
“The impact of the pandemic crisis should serve as a wake-up call for countries that need to embrace the digitalization process, incentivize companies to move towards digital business models, and invest in ICT development and digital skills,” the report said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia to supply more housing units to support needy families in 2021, says finance ministry

Time: 16 December 2020

Above, a new housing project under construction in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)
  • The targets include providing usufruct housing to the most-needy families

The Kingdom’s housing targets for 2021 include continuing to pump more units from off-plan sales to the beneficiaries of Sakani program, the Saudi Ministry of Finance said in the 2021 budget statement.

The targets include providing usufruct housing to the most-needy families, and stimulating factories producing housing units to attract modern and futuristic building technologies in order to raise production capacity, reduce costs and raise quality.

The Ministry of Housing also targets developing mechanisms to regulate the off-plan sale market with the aim of increasing the number of real estate units for the sale and leasing system; protecting the rights of beneficiaries, investors, and developers; and providing support for those who have failed to repay subsidized housing finance installments for those undergoing exceptional, temporary circumstances that are expected to disappear.

This is in addition to continuing to provide financial support for the beneficiaries of the Ministry of Housing and the Real Estate Development Fund to support financing profits at a maximum of SR500,000 ($489,666) for the beneficiary families.

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Saudi Arabia allocates more than SR6 billion for urban landscape

Time: 15 December 2020

There are 13 programs aiming to change and develop the lifestyles of citizens and residents. (SPA)
  • The program seeks to upgrade various aspects of the Saudi cities so that they rank among the world’s top cities to live in

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has allocated more than SR6 billion for urban landscape improvement projects, said Ahmed Badhris, CEO of the Center for the Quality of Life Program.
He said the Quality of Life Program and Vision 2030 attach huge importance to the improvement of the Kingdom’s urban landscape.
Khaled Al-Bakr, acting executive director for marketing and communication at the Quality of Life Program, said that the program seeks to upgrade various aspects of the Saudi cities so that they rank among the world’s top cities to live in.
The program supervises 119 initiatives in the entertainment and recreational sectors, including in culture, sport, recreation and tourism.
There are 13 programs aiming to change and develop the lifestyles of citizens and residents.
The programs rely on the financing method and intersect with other authorities.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The traditional Bedouin coat is a Saudi’s best friend in the cold December nights

14/12/20

Niclas Trouve, ambassador of Sweden to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen, tweeted recently: ‘Ready for a winter night in the desert of Al-Jouf with my new warm farwa.’ (Twitter photo)
  • Farwas won’t give you the cold shoulder in winter

RIYADH: As the nation moves into the winter season, many Saudis have begun packing away the sundresses and shorts and reaching for their sweaters and thermals. But one of the most highly coveted articles of winter clothing is the traditional Bedouin farwa.

Farwas are believed to have originated from Syria and Levant where Bedouins would wear them during the cold winter months.
The long, sweeping, fur-lined overcoat has now established a firm foothold in countries all over the Gulf.
It is a staple in many Saudi households, particularly in the northern and central regions where the biting desert cold can reach surprisingly low temperatures.
Farwas range in material from cheaper offerings, lined with synthetic fur with a protective cloth overlay of linen, velvet, or cotton, to pricier options, such as those made with real fur or hand-dyed sheep’s wool, which can set you back more than $250.
Ahmad Alsharif, a resident of Turaif in the northern province, told Arab News that, living in a town where the average winter temperature can be as low as -5C, he considers a farwa an essential household item.
“During winter, people in the cities wear farwas both at home and when going out. For the Bedouins who live outside of the city, the farwa is even more of a necessity, given how cold it gets in the desert,” he said.
Alsharif said that a real fur farwa can be considered a luxury item or a statement piece among residents in the north. “They make very popular gifts for friends and loved ones,” he said. One of the most favored types, and the most expensive due to its soft touch and light weight, is the karakul, made from the fur of fetal lambs, commonly known as broadtail, or of new newborn lambs. Similar but cheaper is the “Persian” farwa, which is less dense.

FASTFACT

Farwa is a staple in many Saudi households, particularly in the northern and central regions where the biting desert cold can reach surprisingly low temperatures.

Other types include the Iraqi farwa or “Mosuliya Iraqia,” a native of northern Iraq and one of the more expensive types that could reach up to over $1,000. Similarly, the hand embroidered Syrian farwa could reach up to $400 and can take up to 2 weeks to be designed and made.
Faisal Althunayan, a college student from Riyadh, said that getting to show off his collection of farwas was his favorite part of the winter season.
“My friends and I are avid campers; in the winter, we go for a kashta (traditional Saudi camping trip) almost every weekend. Sitting around the fire, grilling burgers and kebabs on an open flame, and huddled up against the cold while bundled up in our furs is my idea of heaven on earth,” he said.

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb

Althunayan says that due to the relative shortness of the winter season in Saudi Arabia, every second of cold is one that he appreciates.
“Our winters aren’t long, so we take advantage of them when we can. And despite what most people think, desert cold is actually some of the worst you can experience because the cold is very dry. Hits you right in the bone. A farwa is really helpful during those moments,” he said.
Though the farwa’s purpose remained the same, the styles have become more versatile as more city dwellers have taken to them and designers are adding their personal touch using leather, fabrics and ornaments for their designs.
The traditional-looking farwa, which is usually a nondescript black or brown with minimal decoration, is turned into stunning, modernized pieces for both men and women to flaunt.
Bright colors, delicate trims and decorations, and even shorter, jacket-like farwas have all found their way into mainstream culture.
Hana Abu Said, a Saudi abaya designer, said that farwas were one of her favorite things to design.
“There’s so much you can do with them. The challenge lies in making sure the article is functional as well as beautiful. It has to do what a farwa is supposed to do first and foremost — keep you warm. As long as the purpose is achieved, it can look however you want it to look,” she said.
“Some women choose to wear a farwa instead of an abaya during the winter. And sometimes, with the excess fur, I can trim winter abayas for those times when the weather is cool, but not yet cold enough for a full-on farwa.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Al-Fouta’s facelift: Riyadh’s historical district slated for renovation

14/09/20

The buildings are sorely in need of repair to restore them to their former glory, experts say, adding that the project will contribute significantly to the preservation of Saudi culture. (Supplied)

  • Prince Badr said that the restoration process will meet international standards for the restoration of historic buildings

RIYADH: A major project is set to bring back the glory of 15 old palaces in the Kingdom’s capital.

The work is part of broader restoration work in the historical districts of central Riyadh, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, Minister of Culture and Chairman of the Heritage Authority, announced on Sunday.
Managed by the Ministry of Culture, represented by the Heritage Authority, in partnership with the Royal Commission for Riyadh and the Riyadh municipality, the project comes as part of King Salman’s keenness to preserve Saudi heritage and falls under the direction of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
From 15 palaces, seven in the western district of Al-Fouta date back to 1944, while three in eastern Al-Fouta date back to 1935. The project will also restore five royal palaces: King Fahd Palace, King Abdullah Palace, Princess Haya bint Abdulrahman Palace, Prince Sultan Palace, and Princess Al-Anoud Palace in Dhahira, Al-Fouta, and Umm Salim districts.

The district of Al-Fouta has a charming, antiquated atmosphere that transports the visitor into another era. Here you’ll find the oldest park in Riyadh, Al-Fouta Park, and the historic Red Palace, which was a gift to King Saud from the Kingdom’s founding father, King Abdul Aziz, which opened its doors as a museum in March of last year, as well as mosques and government offices.

FASTFACTS

• The district of Al-Fouta has a charming, antiquated atmosphere that transports the visitor into another era. Here you’ll find the oldest park in Riyadh, Al-Fouta Park, and the historic Red Palace, which was a gift to King Saud from the Kingdom’s founding father, King Abdul Aziz, which opened its doors as a museum in March of last year, as well as mosques and government offices.

• The work, which envisages the comprehensive restoration of the buildings in two phases over 24 months, starting in January 2021, will commence by conducting a complete study of all heritage buildings of importance in the center of Riyadh.

The buildings are sorely in need of repair to restore them to their former glory, experts say. Rana Alkadi, a specialist in heritage architecture, said that the project will contribute significantly to the preservation of Saudi culture.
“Reviving the heart of Riyadh city heritage will preserve its identity and enhance its historical cultural bonds to the past,” she said.
Saudi historian Majed Al-Ahdal called the renovation “an important step forward,” emphasizing the importance of respecting and understanding one’s past to fully appreciate the future.
“I would argue that the future is open to those who know their past well and use the insights the past provides to move forward with confidence. Though renovating the buildings may seem like a purely aesthetic endeavor on the surface, architecture is one of the most fundamental ways of measuring urban progress,” he said.
“These palaces oversaw countless important events and dates, and thus fully deserve to be restored to their former glory.”
Prince Badr expressed his gratitude for the support provided by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the culture and heritage sector.
In a press statement issued today, the minister said that the restoration process will meet international standards for the restoration of historic buildings.
The work, which envisages the comprehensive restoration of the buildings in two phases over 24 months, starting in January 2021, will commence by conducting a complete study of all heritage buildings of importance in the center of Riyadh.
The project aims to preserve the heritage buildings of architectural and historical importance and transform them into an economic, social, cultural, and tourism resource, reasserting their cultural identity in the context of the history of Riyadh.
The ministry’s efforts to preserve Saudi architectural heritage have increased significantly over the past year.
On Thursday, Prince Badr announced in a tweet that: “Having previously won membership on both UNESCO’s Executive Board and the World Heritage Committee, Member States have now elected KSA for membership of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee.”
In 2019, Arab News reported that SR50 million ($13.33 million) had been pledged by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to support the restoration of Jeddah’s historic Al-Balad district, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site.

This article was first published in Arab News

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500 million birds migrate through Saudi Arabia every year

04/09/20

International efforts have been intensified to support biodiversity, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, in line with the methodology of the Convention on Migratory Birds and the UN Convention on Combating Desertification, according to Saudi observers. (Shutterstock/Supplied)
  • Saudi Wildlife Authority adviser: Dangerous risks facing birds include plastic pollution, dredging and illegal trade

MAKKAH: More than 500 million birds representing 500 species migrate across Saudi Arabia every year through the Red Sea, according to an expert in the Kingdom.
Dr. Mohammed Shubrak, a Saudi Wildlife Authority adviser, said that birds migrating from their habitats to other habitats reflected biodiversity, since most species were well-known and classified.
He explained that the route of migratory birds covered the yearly migration from nesting to resting and feeding grounds.
During migration, birds made many physiological adaptations such as increasing their fat percentage, reducing the size of their organs and increasing the size of their feathers. To migrate from one place to another, birds also adopted different behavior according to their size and species.
“Birds have four movements: Flailing, flying, walking and swimming,” Shubrak told Arab News.
“Flailing and flying are two types of movements of the migratory birds to the Kingdom that cannot escape potential hazards. Some birds come to the same place each year for the same foods, like the imperial eagle that has been seen in Saudi Arabia visiting the same places repeatedly.
Eagles provide a free service to humans as they feed on dead animals. According to a study conducted in a reserve in Taif, eagles get rid of 32 percent of dead animals and 3 percent of mammals (foxes and stray dogs) knowing that livestock numbers represent nine times the load capacity of
grassland in the region.”
Migratory birds are an indicator of environmental changes, he said, adding that environmental interdependence was the movement of species without obstacles ensuring the flow and continuity of natural life.

FASTFACT

• There are about 10,966 bird species in the world.

• 1,469 species are threatened with extinction — equivalent to 13 percent — and illegal hunting is one of the reasons behind their declining numbers.

• 5 billion birds migrate between Eurasia and Africa.

“Environmental interdependence also supports the movement of land, sea and air species and benefits in pollinating flowers of birds, insects, and the environmental hydrological cycle.”
Birds are one of the most common animal species as they exist in all regions of the world, from polar to desert.
According to Saudi observers, international efforts have been intensified to support biodiversity, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, in line with the methodology of the Convention on Migratory Birds and the UN Convention on Combating Desertification.
Shubrak said that migratory birds played a vital role as they had a major relationship with the world that people lived in, whether in terms of culture, the environment, the economy or tourism.
Some birds resorted to hopping and moving for short distances between tens to thousands of kilometers. There were also species that flew thousands of kilometers without stopping, relying on large quantities of food sources to get them through their journey.
Other birds migrated through narrow routes or straight lines, Shubrak said. “The coastal line toward the Red Sea between the mountains and coast lines — this trajectory threatens species like the Siberian crane that by disappearing, caused the disappearance of species migrating through Pakistan to spend winter in India.”
He added that the most dangerous risks facing birds were noncontrolled hunting, poisoning, plastic pollution, dredging and land filling, power lines, illegal trade and climate change.
“There are plans of action to protect migratory birds in Saudi Arabia, including hawks, in partnership with hunters. Saudi Arabia has contributed financially and scientifically to developing plans to protect hawks in partnership with hunters from Saudi Arabia.”
He added that a national plan needed to be carried out to preserve hawks in the Kingdom since the numbers of most hawks used for hunting were dwindling, such as the mountainous falcon, whose numbers have decreased by 93 percent.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudis try sandboarding as domestic tourism booms

04/09/20

While the international airport and borders remain closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Saudis and expats turn to domestic tourism, many heading for a sandboarding experience on the dunes of the “Saed” desert area, 110 km east of the capital Riyadh.

This article was first published in Arab News

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