Abu Dhabi Police has warned UAE businesses of a surge in attacks by international hackers, urging them to use safe and modern protection software, and abstain from sending business correspondence using personal email accounts.
Colonel Dr Rashid Borshid, director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), revealed that online criminals are hacking into company email accounts to discover when financial claims are due, the WAM news agency reported.
Attackers then set up fake email accounts in order to lure companies into revealing their bank details and other confidential financial information.
As part of the Abu Dhabi Police's awareness-raising initiative to combat cybercrime, Colonel Borshid called on all businesses not to solely rely on routine electronic correspondence for their transactions and payments, particularly when the other party unexpectedly provides new bank account numbers.
"International hacking can be combated by using accredited and reliable anti-virus software, regularly changing their passwords, and updating secure operating systems and reliable applications continuously," he recommended.
“The world is hyper-connected, and once a malware genie is out of the bottle it cannot be put back,” Eugene Kaspersky, the co-founder of Kaspersky Lab, and one of the world’s foremost cyber security experts, told Arabian Business in a feature published this week.
“It will attack computers in MENA, in Europe, South America — basically every computer having a similar OS, software and vulnerabilities as the initial victim. So the whole world is a hotbed for modern cyber criminals. I would even say it’s a cyber criminals’ paradise.”
In just a few decades internet crime has escalated from mischievous individual hackers sending mostly email-linked viruses affecting a relatively small number of PCs to all-out government-funded operations with targets as big as nuclear facilities and military operations.
And the Middle East is becoming a hotbed for harvesting cyber criminals as well as a major target.
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“Over the last year [the Middle East] has been one of the highest [cyber crime active regions] we’ve seen in the world,” the president of McAfee for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Gert-Jan Schenk, said.
“Also with all the geopolitical events that clearly drives a lot of cyber crime and cyber war activities.”
The need for permanent expertise in the region was highlighted in August last year when a virus dubbed Shamoon wiped clean nearly 30,000 computer hard drives at Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of the world’s largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia.
The attack, which failed to disrupt production but was one of the most destructive hacker strikes against a single business, forced Aramco to shut its main internal network for more than a week.
The region was also recently hit by a global cyber crime ring that stole $45m from the Bank Muscat and National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah (RAKBANK) in what was one of the largest-ever bank heists.
By hacking into credit card processing firms, the group managed to withdrew money from ATMs in 27 countries simultaneously.
US authorities say the group operated from New York and their “surgical precision”, global operations and speed proved the sheer sophistication of cyber criminal gangs.
“In the place of guns and masks, this cyber crime organisation used laptops and the internet,” US attorney Loretta Lynch said after the May attack.
“Moving as swiftly as data over the internet, the organisation worked its way from the computer systems of international corporations to the streets.”
Cyber crime is estimated to have caused $388bn worth of global losses in 2011, according to a white paper published by financial services firm First Clearing, as well as online security firm Norton.