RIYADH, Feb 27, (AFP): Gulf countries must tighten coordination to fight an increasing number of cyber attacks, experts said on Monday, as one official blamed hackers in Iran. The comments came at an international conference in the Saudi Arabian capital after the Shamoon 2 virus in January reportedly disrupted labour ministry computers.
All Gulf Cooperation Council countries are at risk, Saleh Almotairi, director general of the Saudi National Cyber Security Centre, told the conference. “There is an increase in targeting GCC countries,” he said, noting that both financial and government bodies have been targeted. “If we cooperate we will be able to protect all sectors,” he added, reporting that his centre responded to 124 “breaches” last year. GCC members Bahrain and Kuwait were also the targets of increasing attacks over the past year, according to cyber security experts. Hackers tried to penetrate the computer systems at Bahrain’s interior ministry, said Lieutenant Colonel Bassam Al Maraj, a ministry director.
Maraj said the attempted breach originated in Iran, and singled out “Bahraini people living in Iran.” Bahrain is a Shiite-majority but Sunni-ruled state which, like Saudi Arabia, sees Iran as linked to unrest throughout the Middle East Quasai Alshatti, director general of Kuwait’s Central Agency for Information Technology, said financial institutions in his country have also been targeted. The Shamoon virus was first deployed against the Saudi energy sector in 2012. “There is no way you can prevent the attack,” Almotairi said of the virus. After the 2012 Shamoon hacking, US intelligence officials said they suspected a link to Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran.
The oil and gas-rich region’s organisational infrastructure against hacking is still new, as experts become increasingly focused on combating rising attacks. Saudi Arabia’s National Cyber Security Centre has been set up over the past two years but was only formally opened this month. Qatar began its cyber security strategy in 2014, Khalid Al-Hashmi, the emirate’s Undersecretary of Cyber Security, told the conference, which continues on Tuesday. “We need more attention to cyber security and we need to add more professionals to the field of cyber security,” said Saudi Prince Bandar Al Mishari, assistant interior minister for Technology Affairs