23:34 GMT28 February 2021
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    In August, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became the third and four Arab League member states to normalize ties with the State of Israel, with Washington sweetening the deal by offering Abu Dhabi a $23 billion arms agreement including up to 50 F-35 fighters and over a dozen Reaper drones.

    The UAE has faced a “huge” number of attacks after signing the normalization deal with Tel Aviv, Mohamed Hamad al-Kuwaiti, the chief of the Gulf shiekdom’s cyber security has revealed.

    “Our relationship, for example, with the normalization with Israel really opened a whole huge attacks from some other activists against the UAE,” Kuwaiti said, speaking at a conference in Dubai on Sunday, his remarks cited by Reuters and CNBC.

    “The financial sector was one of the most attacked areas, as well as the health sector,” the official indicated. He did not provide any more information about whether any of the attacks were successful, or what entities were targeted. The official said the attacks came from across the Middle East, including Iran, which has also been the victim of cyberattacks recently.

    Cyber Pandemic

    Kuwaiti suggested that not just his country, but the entire Middle East has faced a “cyber pandemic” of malicious coronavirus-related cyberattacks. “As we moved into a full online life, we saw a huge increase in many of those attacks,” he said, referring to efforts by governments in the region and around the world to lock down economic activity to try to curb the virus’s spread in the spring, summer and fall.

    The official said he estimated an “at least 250 percent increase” in cyberattacks in 2020, with most of the attacks consisting of increasingly sophisticated phishing and ransomware schemes.

    UAE’s Cyber Capabilities

    In addition to defending against hack attacks, the UAE is thought to be dishing them out, with a 2019 Reuters report suggesting that the kingdom was hiring former US intelligence operatives to surveil other governments, militant and terrorist groups and rights groups which may be critical of Abu Dhabi.

    Earlier this year, Israeli media revealed that Tel Aviv had mediated the sale of espionage-grade spyware tech to the UAE and other Gulf nations to facilitate sweeping remote surveillance of smartphones. Along with the UAE, NSO Group, the Israeli company involved, is said to have contracts with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. NSO has been sued by WhatsApp over its alleged targeted use of malware to suck smartphone data from the accounts of journalists, activists, and senior government officials worldwide. The same company was probed by the FBI for supplying Saudi Arabia with tools to spy on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and other US nationals and companies. Riyadh denied any involvement in that scandal.

    Israel and Iran are known to have waged a years-long hacking and cyberwarfare campaign amid the long-standing geopolitical tensions between the two nations. In August, Iran’s armed forces issued a policy document warning that they would have the right to respond outside cyberspace to cyberattacks which cause real world damage.

    Tehran and Tel Aviv have been attacking one another using computers since at least 2010, when a Mossad mole installed the infamous Stuxnet malware programme into the Natanz nuclear power station in a sabotage attack assisted by the CIA and Dutch intelligence. Since then, the two sides have attacked everything from websites to power facilities, utilities, ports and even defence-related infrastructure.

    The UAE and Israel signed a US-brokered normalization-of-relations deal in September, with Bahrain joining the treaty. In October, Sudan announced that it too would normalize ties with Israel in exchange for a commitment by Washington lift its state sponsor of terrorism designation. Egypt and Jordan normalized relations with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively. The other 17 members of the Arab League have yet to do so.

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