Need to focus on cybersecurity, adopt AI to protect vital sectors: DFF

Photo: Dubai Media Office

A series of reports from the Dubai Future Research, an initiative by the Dubai Future Foundation, DFF, anticipates the future of vital sectors in the aftermath of the ongoing global coronavirus crisis with several intelligence agencies worldwide exploring the adoption of Artificial Intelligence, AI, to counter cyber threats.

In its eleventh "Life After COVID-19" report, the DFF, has acknowledged the surge in cyberattacks worldwide following the outbreak of the pandemic and the growing dependence on digital infrastructures.

The latest report "Life After COVID-19: Cyber Security" attributes the rise in cyberattacks amid the global outbreak, reported by countries worldwide, to the increased vulnerability of digital infrastructures to opportunistic hackers looking to exploit this digital dependency, even while IT departments and IT security teams continue to work remotely.

The report points out that phishing emails alone have surged by over 600 percent since February 2020, with attackers targeting individuals and institutions through email hacking and suspicious links, seeking to acquire log-in details and financial information, according to Barracuda Networks, a worldwide leader in security, application delivery, and data protection solutions.

An article in Intelligent CIO, a technology intelligence platform aimed at the enterprise IT sector to provide targeted updates and research-driven data, noted that the global pandemic has led to the creation of more than 100,000 new COVID-19 web domains that need to be treated with caution, although not all of them are malicious.

The report highlights that hospitals, medical centres and public institutions worldwide are the targets of, primarily, ransomware attacks. Cybercriminals are exploiting digital infrastructure healthcare professionals use to treat COVID-19 patients, confident that organisations will have no choice but to pay to re-enter their systems. In addition, cybercriminals are also selling fake medical supplies.

An article in Law360, a subscription-based legal news service, notes that several scams involve individuals or entities impersonating government officials, claiming COVID-19 medical breakthroughs and promoting sales of bogus or non-existent medical products.

The financial and oil sectors are also vulnerable and incurring huge losses from cybercrimes. In the UAE, the report states that the Central Bank of the UAE has warned customers to beware of fraudsters looking to hack into bank accounts. Throughout the MENA region, several oil companies have been targets of phishing emails. In most cases, the hackers are looking to acquire personal or sensitive data on individuals and oil production, they can sell on the dark web.

However, such break-ins are not limited to governments or organisations. With so many people congregating on video conferencing platforms some of them have lately reported security breaches. The report points out that online gaming platforms are also increasingly the target of cyberattacks.

In April 2020, Google and Apple both released statements assuring users that their contact-tracing system is encrypted and that the Bluetooth connection used to track locations is too strong for hackers to break through to obtain location and device details.

Machine learning is also a powerful solution to analyse data sets and identify patterns and connections at a far greater speed than conventional means.

For the short term, the report predicts new measures may need to be urgently put in place. Government entities may consider implementing AI-based cybersecurity systems to provide ongoing analyses of cyber threats and potential attacks.

In the long term, the report anticipates that as technology advances, quantum computing will ultimately become a critical factor in cybersecurity to help analyse and repel attacks within seconds.

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