The Internet is the core enabling element of a digital nation. Because the World Wide Web is borderless, securing the diverse digital assets available on it is critical, as cyberattacks can occur from anywhere at any time, by known and unknown parties.

All members of society — be they enterprises, governments or end users — are gathering, storing, processing and transferring vast amounts of data online on a daily basis. As a result, cybersecurity threats evolve rapidly as the scope of the Internet expands. In the beginning, nobody needed internet security, but as malware, ransomware and other kinds of malicious viruses became prevalent, the problem emerged and became increasingly global.

In this world of constant interconnectedness, online security is paramount because the cost of cybercrime worldwide has become massive. Figures revealed so far show that such a detrimental price tag will increase by 15% annually over the next five years, and by 2025, that cost will reach $10.5 trillion annually.

Truth be told, we are never going to be free from risks in the digital world. No system or tool has been proven to be perfectly impenetrable by attackers. Security weaknesses are targeted by malicious actors, mostly to exploit identities and get money.

It is a no-brainer that protecting oneself online is difficult, similar in complexity to securing homes and other physical premises. Whether it be our names in our email, bank account information, browsing history or any other data exposed online, we must protect ourselves proactively and become cyber smart.

Challenges to Focus On

In terms of Internet usage, there are key challenges that are currently being addressed and must be consistently managed in the future to ensure a safe digital experience.

  • Enhancing data privacy

Data privacy breaches on the internet pose real dangers. The collecting, storing and sharing of your data without consent could give third parties access to your private information or, worse, allow them to steal your identity. A basic step to protect against this is to make sure that your communications are secure while the data is in motion. This is applicable whether you're surfing the web, sending an email or using a navigating tool on your phone or laptop.

We must understand thoroughly that online privacy and security go hand in hand. Many scholars are now referencing this era as the “digital surveillance economy,” where a new business model is powered by the acquisition and consolidation of very large volumes of personal data in order to target advertisements, manipulate consumer behavior and drive the prices of goods and services at the highest level. With minimal effort, users are often induced to make their data readily available.

This datafication process has made tracking and internet surveillance easier for hackers. Yet thanks to new technologies and software, there are unprecedented ways to monitor these activities and prevent further damage.

  • Improving cybersecurity

In a world that relies on the Internet, cybersecurity is king. By now, cyberattackers have become true innovators as they have managed to advance their approach to infiltrating systems. In order to defend ourselves, we must keep pace with new technological advancements. Innovations in cybersecurity are laying a new foundation of defense against unwanted attacks.

The first focus is Artificial Intelligence (AI). While automation provides detection of any wrongdoings, it can also safeguard the target areas. The tracking of logs, transactions and real-time data to discover threats and anomalies is an exemplary utilization of AI. Moreover, an examination of behavioral analytics can discern trends, patterns and habits in each user’s workflow to indicate possible cybersecurity issues.

One of the most currently discussed cybersecurity topics is the zero-trust model, which requires all users to be authenticated and authorized before accessing any data or resources. As an internal precaution, it gives the same priority to guarding against external attacks and includes identifying and mapping critical data flow, logical and physical segmentation, and constant endpoint monitoring.

It is essential for cybersecurity professionals to be innovative since we’re moving to a digitally enabled future. By providing better security on the network, we can accelerate our innovation journey in an efficient and sustainable manner.

  • Ensuring the global free flow of information

2022 was a tough year when it came to cybersecurity, from Russia’s cyberattacks on Ukraine to alarming hacking scenarios in other parts of the world. In fact, according to new data, global cyberattacks increased by 38% in 2022.

These cyberattack numbers were driven by smaller, more agile hackers and ransomware gangs that focused on exploiting collaboration tools used mostly in work-from-home environments. The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted how information is transmitted as well.

With this in mind, this increase in global cyberattacks also stems from hacker interest in healthcare organizations, which saw the largest increase in cyberattacks last year.

Geographically speaking, Africa experienced the highest volume of attacks, with 1,875 weekly attacks per organization, followed by APAC with 1,691 such attacks. North America (+52%), Latin America (+29%) and Europe (+26%) also showed a surge in cyberattacks in 2022.

Both the public and private sectors are working on either removing limitations on the information flow within their territories or restricting the data flow to protect citizens’ data. Headlines regarding these various data manipulations and breaches further impact these steps and require stronger policy enforcement for the benefit of all online users.

Take Responsibility for Online Security

In order to improve cybersecurity on a national scale, the first step is to encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own online security. Individual citizens need to be cyber smart by increasing their capabilities to be active and engaged netizens.

For websites, the quickest thing that can be checked to ensure safety is the padlock symbol next to the URL and the use of HTTPS. Additionally, red flags such as too many pop-ups and ads, selected payment methods, non-existent privacy or return policies, search engine warnings, illogical texts and weird pictures shouldn’t be disregarded.

It is also vital to conduct cyber awareness training, especially at the workplace, to avoid vulnerable activities such as clicking on malicious links or revealing personal or sensitive data and to encourage safeguards such as the verifying of files or software before downloading and the use of a VPN when connecting via untrusted networks.

Keeping computers and servers up-to-date and applying security patches can also help limit an organization’s vulnerability to ransomware attacks. It is important to remember that prevention is better than detection. With the right set of technologies in place, most attacks, even the most sophisticated ones, can be prevented without disrupting the normal business flow.

Create a Secure Digital Environment in the Middle East

Countries in the Middle East have been successful in their digitization initiatives, but with this focus comes inherent exposure to cybersecurity risks. A suggested strategic approach to national cybersecurity should follow a “CCC” framework: comprehensive in nature, collaborative by intention and capability-driven.

Mohamed al-Kuwaiti, head of government cybersecurity for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), previously warned that the Middle East was facing a “cyber pandemic.” The Gulf States have been the main targets for attacks in the region as they transition to technologies such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and blockchain, each of which can be infiltrated by malware and other cyber threats.

National visions and initiatives must continue to be implemented in order to prevent suspicious actors from exploiting the vulnerabilities created by a dependence on these emerging digital technologies.

The establishment of a safe and secure environment for existing and future digitization initiatives in the Middle East is a challenging undertaking, but with the influence and action of various stakeholders from the public and private sectors, the journey toward proactive and effective prevention and mitigation of cyberattacks can effectively be achieved.

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