RIYADH: The inception of the Global Cybersecurity Forum Institute in Riyadh, mandated by a royal decree from King Salman in June, reflects a proactive response to the swift evolution of cyberspace and its profound potential to revolutionize society.
So, what exactly is cybersecurity? In simple terms, it involves safeguarding computers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks, servers, and data from malicious attacks.
Over the past few years, the Kingdom, positioned as the Middle East’s foremost information and communication hub, has encountered a growing number of cyber threats, particularly with the proliferation of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers.
In the first two months of 2021, Saudi Arabia weathered a staggering 7 million cyberattacks.
According to Abdullah Al-Gumaijan, a prominent Saudi cybersecurity expert, this surge in cyberattacks often coincides with regional political tensions. Additionally, cyber attackers have increasingly recognized the efficacy and impact of cyberweapons, contributing to the rising trend of investments in such attacks.
The establishment of cybersecurity institutes not only underscores the Kingdom’s dedication, both domestically and internationally, to mitigating the frequency of these attacks but also underscores the societal significance of cybersecurity.
A spokesperson from the GCF Institute elaborated, stating that it is a global platform designed to enhance society’s resilience through collaborative priorities, purposeful discussions, and meaningful initiatives.
“It will serve as a collaborative hub where key stakeholders from around the world unite and work together for the collective betterment of societies and nations. Through the harnessing of intellectual prowess and the promotion of international cooperation, the institute aspires to play a pivotal role in fostering a more stable and secure digital realm accessible to all.
The institute’s primary mission is to address the most pressing cybersecurity challenges faced by governments, enterprises, and individuals. It seeks to act as a catalyst for the exchange of ideas, driving the development of thought leadership and conducting research to guide policy solutions and action, as stated in its inaugural declaration.
Additionally, the institute aims to facilitate global projects, promote cross-cultural collaboration, and encourage the sharing of ideas related to both new and existing critical initiatives in the realm of cyberspace.
In line with its mission statement: ‘The institute will serve as a platform to enhance the stability, security, and prosperity of cyberspace by stimulating socioeconomic transformation, pushing the boundaries of knowledge, and uniting global champions. Its goal is to pioneer global endeavors that maximize the advantages of cyberspace and foster resilience through dialogue, investment, research, and innovation.’
This initiative underscores the Kingdom’s determination to establish itself as a global leader in cybersecurity. Saudi Arabia’s current ranking as the second-best in the world for cybersecurity, as per the World Competitiveness Yearbook for 2022 published by the Switzerland-based International Institute for Management Development—an authoritative global report—is a testament to its commitment to this endeavor.
“The National Cybersecurity Authority, along with organizations like the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones, as well as the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, have played pivotal roles in propelling Saudi Arabia’s prominence in the cybersecurity arena. They have spearheaded the development of laws, regulations, and the nurturing of cybersecurity talent.
Moataz BinAli, Regional Vice President and Managing Director overseeing the Mediterranean, Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa regions at Trend Micro, expressed to Arab News, ‘Saudi Arabia’s leadership in global cybersecurity is the result of a comprehensive strategy that harmonizes regulatory measures, talent development, technological innovation, and international cooperation. King Salman’s decree to establish the Global Cybersecurity Forum Institute underscores this unwavering commitment, with the aim of enhancing cybersecurity measures on a global scale.
“Trend Micro has set a milestone as the inaugural global cybersecurity forum giant to establish its Middle Eastern headquarters and a local cloud data lake in Saudi Arabia. As a renowned global leader in cybersecurity solutions, its mission revolves around creating a secure environment for businesses and individuals to exchange digital information.
Commenting on this endeavor, BinAli stated, ‘The institute has been conceived to complement these efforts, promoting international collaboration and fostering socioeconomic growth in the field of cybersecurity. With an international board of trustees and an advisory council consisting of global experts, the institute will serve as a hub for knowledge exchange and collaborative opportunities.’
According to Trend Micro’s Annual Cybersecurity Report for 2022, their cybersecurity solutions effectively identified and thwarted a total of 110 million threats within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has taken the lead in cybersecurity within the Arab world. Despite being a prime target for cyberattacks, BinAli noted that the country has turned adversity into strength, emerging as the largest cybersecurity market in the Middle East.
He attributed this achievement to the Kingdom’s proactive stance on cybersecurity, rooted in a recognition of its global significance and a vision that transcends national borders, contributing significantly to the international cybersecurity landscape.
In recent years, several initiatives have been launched to bolster cybersecurity awareness among the Saudi population and its businesses. These encompass awareness campaigns, training programs, and competitions aimed at stimulating student interest in cybersecurity.
This year, the Saudi government has intensified its commitment to cybersecurity regulations, with a noticeable uptick in the emergence of cybersecurity startups and a growing number of job opportunities in the field.
BinAli also highlighted the impact of social transformations initiated under Vision 2030 on the advancement of cybersecurity. The emphasis on increased female workforce participation has led to a notable surge in Saudi women holding technical and leadership positions in cybersecurity, constituting 45 percent of the country’s cybersecurity workforce, according to the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones.
The National Cybersecurity Authority’s comprehensive 2023 National Plan for Cyber Assessments outlines extensive cybersecurity evaluations for national entities, with a focus on compliance audits and technical cyber reviews of critical systems. The plan aims to proactively identify and manage cyber risks at the national level, while ensuring adherence to standards and controls established by the authority.
Of significant importance is the Haseen Initiative launched in 2022 by the authority. It adopts a holistic approach to cybersecurity, aiming to foster collective security through the sharing of information on cyber threats and incidents among national entities. The platform also facilitates compliance management, aligning entities with regulations such as the National Cybersecurity Framework and General Data Protection Regulation. Moreover, it combats phishing and email fraud through a robust email authentication service, thereby fortifying national resilience against cyber threats.
The Saudi government has also undertaken a range of other measures, including integrated cybersecurity governance, effective management of cyber risks, safeguarding cyberspace, fortifying the security of critical infrastructure and information systems, strengthening national capabilities in defense against cyber threats, forging partnerships for collaborative security, and building national capacity to bolster the cybersecurity ecosystem within the Kingdom.
Noteworthy initiatives include the establishment of the National Cybersecurity Center to raise awareness of cybersecurity efforts, the enactment of the Cybersecurity Law to provide a legal framework for cybersecurity, the development of a National Cybersecurity Awareness Program to educate citizens and residents, and the establishment of the National Academy of Cybersecurity to train and enhance the Kingdom’s cybersecurity workforce.
Ultimately, as underscored by these initiatives and emphasized by BinAli, robust cybersecurity significantly enhances the quality of life, economic prospects, and digital innovation.
BinAli stated, ‘Cybersecurity plays a pivotal role in enhancing our quality of life, particularly in today’s digitally driven world. It safeguards our online existence and the digital services we rely on daily—ranging from online banking, e-commerce, healthcare, and education to social networking and more. It protects our personal information and online privacy, ensuring security so that we can fully enjoy the benefits of the digital world without the fear of identity theft, fraud, or privacy breaches.’
Furthermore, cybersecurity is essential for ensuring the seamless operation of critical services. Vital infrastructures like power grids, transportation systems, healthcare, and financial services are increasingly dependent on digital networks. Robust cybersecurity measures thwart cyberattacks, ensuring the reliability and accessibility of these critical services.
‘Finally, global cybersecurity forum promotes economic growth and innovation. By providing a secure foundation for digital activities, it fosters trust in digital commerce, spurs the development of new technologies, and facilitates the digital transformation of industries,’ he concluded.