Fighting Hackers: The development of cybersecurity in Saudi Arabia

The kingdom outranks all other Arab countries in terms of "commitment to cybersecurity".

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Source: NYU

Saudi Arabia established the National Cybersecurity Authority (NCA) in 2017, with aims “to protect the Kingdom’s cyberspace from cyber threats, respond to cyber incidents and provide cyber situational awareness.”

Alongside the NCA are the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security and Programming (SAFCSP), the Prince Mohamed Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Philanthropic Foundation (MiSK), and the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College for Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Technologies. Hand in hand, these organizations have played a large role in the fields of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and advanced technologies — all of which are part of the government’s Vision 2030 agenda.

According to the SAFCSP’s executive director, Nouf Abdullah Al-Rakan, Saudi Arabia ranked first in 2018 in the Arab world and 17th globally in terms of the number of cyber attacks carried out against the country. A study by Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) found that the kingdom witnessed a rise of 33 ranks since the last UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) report was published in 2016, placing it at the top among Arab countries and 13th globally in terms of commitment to cybersecurity.

For its fourth year in a row, the Middle East and North Africa Information Security Conference 2019 (MENA ISC 2019) will take place in the kingdom’s capital, Riyadh. The seventh edition of MENA ISC 2019, dubbed “Cyber Space, the New Frontier: Deception, Orchestration and Blackholes,” will be held on Sept. 9 and 10.

The conference will also host the third edition of the Cyber Saber Hackathon. Any and all interested students can take part in attempting to hack and defend a model smart city.

According to a report released by the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council (USSABC), the country’s defense sector is expected to provide the kingdom’s GDP with 231.27 billion riyals ($61.65 billion) by 2020. Specifically, its cybersecurity sector is expected to be one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country, with a market value expected to reach 19.12 billion riyals ($5.1 billion) by 2022.

Saudi co-chairman of USSABC, Abdullah Jumaah, told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that the public administration and defense sector should generate 2.52 million private-sector jobs in Saudi Arabia by 2028.

In an effort to further develop the nation’s cyber strategies, the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College for Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Technologies signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the London-based British Aerospace and Technical Sciences Company (BAE Systems). The latter has been ranked as the third largest company for space, defense, and security industries in the world.

The college’s dean, Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Dahlawi, clarified that this partnership is meant to activate training and technical cooperation between the college and the company.

As part of the initial stages, MiSK and SAFCSP signed an MoU in 2018 for the development of cybersecurity and programming in the kingdom. The agreement included the growth and expansion of knowledge about the field among youths and professionals alike, as well as the creation of awareness programs and events on the topics of cybersecurity and programming.

Not long before this memorandum was agreed upon, the SAFCSP signed two accords with Microsoft and Cisco Systems. Microsoft was asked to provide training equipment and curricula for participating members, as well as access to educational resources, tools, programs, and licenses for some of the company’s products.

Since early 2018, no less than a dozen memorandums have been signed, each with its own set of agreements, depending on the organization that has signed it.

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