CAIRO: Egypt is, in a lot of ways, a regional leader – economically, politically, culturally. The largest country in the Middle East is also first among its peers for something rather more notorious: susceptibility to online attacks.
Symantec Corp., a leading internet security firm from California, issued its annual Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), ranking each country based broadly on the amount of malicious cyber activity taking place there.
Egypt ranked second in the region – after Israel – and worst among the Arab states. Its global ranking was 26 (with 1 being the worst), deteriorating from 34 last year. The study ranked 230 countries.
The increase in Egypt’s vulnerability, says Johnny Karam, regional director of Middle East and North Africa for Symantec, has much to do with the recent dramatic rise in internet use among the country’s 80 million strong population.
Karam called Egypt an “emerging internet infrastructure and indicated that this phase of a country’s internet growth rendered it particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks.
“The reason for Egypt’s prominence, he said, “is this measurement may be that many Egyptians still primarily use internet cafes or other publicly accessible shared computers to access the internet. Public computers used by large numbers of people for a wide variety of purposes have an increased window of exposure to attack.
At this stage in Egypt’s internet growth, many households are beginning to install internet, whereas many in the lower income brackets, who had never used internet, are beginning to find their ways to cafes in cities across the country.
This transitional period has created vulnerabilities that hackers have begun taking advantage of.
“We’ve seen [the trend] in each and every country that opens up the internet highway, Karam said.
In collecting data for its reports, Symantec deploys 240,000 sensors worldwide. The sensors act as decoy accounts to track malicious behavior, be it spam, virus, phishing, or hacking.
Through this work, Karam says, his company has noticed worrying trends in the motives of these internet bandits.
For a long time, rogue hackers perpetrated crimes for sport. Today, though, the activities have become much more organized, originating most frequently out of Russia, and center their operations around making money.
Russia leads the internet fraud industry, with 50 percent of phishing attacks originating there. Phishing is a practice in which internet users are fooled into giving up sensitive information, including passwords and credit card numbers.
Around 78 percent of threats, said Karam, were for the purpose of stealing data.
Stealing credit cards become an increasingly popular trend. Because it’s so easy to do, black market merchants sell the stolen lines of credit for between $.06 and $30.
While emerging internet infrastructures dot the top of the ISTR, other more advanced countries also fall victim to internet predators.
The United States, China, Germany and the UK – in that order – top the list for the second year running.
So as Egypt elbows its way into the internet era, the road ahead will be fraught with challenges.
Awareness, says Karam, is critical to a country’s ability to control internet crime. Gulf countries like Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have managed to get somewhat of a hold of internet crimes in their countries. For each, their latest rankings moved little, indicating that the increase in crime is stabilizing.
These countries have managed to boost their internet crime awareness campaigns. These efforts, notes Karam, must extend not only to individuals, but also to companies, governments, and service providers.
Karam says Symantec has been out front in pushing countries to establish Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) in order to be prepared to combat cyber crimes. The UAE has established a CERT he says will play a major role in securing the internet there.
Egypt’s financial sector is becoming increasingly reliant on the internet. Banks are moving towards online banking, while brokerages store a growing amount of sensitive data on their servers. Securing Egypt’s internet will be a critical component in that continued growth, especially since much of the banking sector’s momentum in Egypt is predicated on the idea that money is more secure in a bank than under the proverbial mattress.
Egypt’s uptick in cyber crimes and its tumble in the world rankings are signs of a changing culture. Symantec’s new report, though, unequivocally states that with a growing internet infrastructure must come the parallel growth of a cyber security apparatus.