Dubai security summit turns attention to evolving threat of cybercrime

DUBAI - Detecting crimes more swiftly and efficiently in the face of new technological threats has become the focal point of police forces in the Gulf region.

Gulf Cooperation Council members are increasingly being targeted by cyber-criminals. Research by security firm Symantec revealed that 1 in 175 e-mails in Saudi Arabia is blocked as potentially malicious, compared to the global average of 1 in 412.

“We are talking today about the future,” said Sulaiman Alkaabi, CEO of the Future Foresight Foundation in the UAE. “Criminal organisations today have a foresight plan and high-tech intelligence. They have also built their own communications network.”

Speaking at the Future Security Summit in Dubai, Alkaabi said the Internet of Things (IoT) would be the new target of criminal organisations. “We should be prepared as law enforcement authorities because there is a big gap between the technologies used by the police and those used by terrorist groups,” he said. “We should bridge this gap and be able to counter these crimes.”

He gave the example of 3D printing, breakthrough technology that has the potential of becoming a lethal weapon if it is not regulated adequately. From plastic guns and grenades to the manufacture of illegal drugs, Alkaabi warned of the threat 3D printing poses.

“It took me 27 hours to print this pistol,” he said, pointing at the gun in his hand. “It has 17 pieces and can shoot anyone, with the instructions on how to use it available on the internet. Criminal organisations are rapidly adopting new technologies, some of which can be difficult to detect, so it has become really easy for them.”

The Dark Web, which consists of 96% of the internet, has been the source of many evolving threats. “It’s dangerous,” he said. “Anything illegal, related to drug and human trafficking, as well as weapons sales, is available on the Dark Web and it is coded in a professional way. It’s a major challenge for the police.”

He mentioned quadcopter drones that can be programmed to create a lethal outcome. “The bigger challenge is that if you have thousands of these robots in one city, they can create major damage,” Alkaabi said. “This is the future that awaits us.”

Although the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and other countries are upgrading their capabilities, there are no specific laws regulating technologies such as 3D printing and artificial intelligence (AI). Drone flyers in the UAE must register the devices with the General Civil Aviation Authority to legally fly them at heights of more than 120 metres in allocated areas.

“Criminals are focusing on AI, IoT, robots and technology in general,” Alkaabi noted. “Having a gun in the UAE is illegal but a printed gun is legal so there needs to be laws for this kind of infrastructure. Saudi Arabia should create legislation before an accident takes place. The Gulf is especially a target and with criminal organisations that are now ‘smarter’ than the police, there are many challenges we have to focus on going forward.”

By 2030, Dubai Police expect to deploy AI-powered systems. The UAE has introduced a Strategy for Artificial Intelligence, a Dubai 3D Printing Strategy and a UAE Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, along with Dubai Future Councils, to develop police services.

“Smart Dubai 2021 is no longer an initiative, we’ve got a city of the future right here,” said Abhay Bhargava, director of industrial practice at Frost & Sullivan in the UAE.

“In the journey of digital transformation in Dubai, we have 1,000 smart services, 100 initiatives and much more happening around data exchange, including new technologies, autonomous vehicles and drones, so it’s important to know about security and safety.”

Dubai has spent $400 billion to combat cybercrime and, with a rising number of internet users, expected to reach 5 billion by 2020, planning for the future will prove crucial.

“The future cities are based on smart government, infrastructure and transportation,” said Brigadier Abdullah bin Sultan, director of the Future Foresight Centre at Dubai Police. “As the population of Dubai and around the world continues to increase, we are expecting to face a number of challenges ahead.”

The new digital age has shifted from physical security to data security.

“We require a dedicated layer of communication and infrastructure to connect 8,800 sets of security systems in the emirate of Dubai,” said Arif Al Janahi, director of operations and security services at the Security Industry Regulatory Agency in the UAE.

“We are preparing all the sensory to be able to adopt AI to connect everything together. But all security systems require legislation, technical requirements and management. If one is weak, then we cannot implement any physical security.”

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