Smartworld, a joint venture of UAE telecoms firm Etisalat and Dubai South, the Dubai government-owned urban development project, has thrown its weight behind what it calls the region’s first locally-owned and managed cyber security centre.

Apart from monitoring cyber attacks round-the-clock, the centre will focus on training nationals in the UAE and in the wider Arab world on cyber security specialisations ranging from risk assessment to unified threat management, among others.

The initiative could be interpreted as a quiet admission that the country and the GCC region in general currently lacks adequate skills to protect its national assets, many of which are considered very high profile, from cyber attacks. It also indicates the growing awareness of the need to address the critical skills gap and to reduce reliance on external experts in combatting external and internal security threats over the long term.

Indeed Smartworld CEO Abdulqader Ali has confirmed that the “the growing threat of cyber attacks and the lack of skills to combat and address such threats always figure among the most recurrent concerns of the region’s chief information officers (CIOs).”

Experts agree that the GCC region, particularly the UAE and Qatar, make excellent targets for cyber attacks due to the high presence of high net worth individuals, its complex geopolitics, and the infrastructure build-up leading to the staging of world events such as the 2022 Fifa World Cup and Dubai Expo 2020.

The increasing digitisation of government services, or the use of mobile and smart devices to transact with the government, increases their level of vulnerability and begs for a stronger cyber security framework.

It is also understood that the region’s finance and oil and gas sectors are the most frequent target of cyber attacks due to the high value and volume of confidential records that may be exploited, as well as the economic costs of potentially disrupting or disabling their operations. One can only extrapolate that other critical national assets such as the the utilities and transport sector – primarily ports, airports and public transportation – are also among the major targets of such attacks.

As a result, building the region’s cyber security capacity now is imperative. Given, the level of the sophistication of cyber attacks tends to be directly proportional to the level or quality of defence that exists, no one will be hurt, except perhaps the hackers, if the region’s capabilities to protect its information assets are further strengthened in anticipation of more sophisticated attacks.