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.
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.
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.