Traditional defence contractors such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have placed cybersecurity at the top of their agenda this year, according to interviews with several senior executives at Idex in Abu Dhabi this week.

As weapons systems advance and take on more autonomous capabilities, the issue of securing the computer systems used to control them has arisen as a key issue in the defence industry.

“Cyber security must be an integrated part of all future innovation and technologies from inception,” said Shahzad Zafar, Raytheon’s Director of Cybersecurity.

“The challenges we face when it comes to cyber threats are real, sophisticated, and becoming more aggressive,” he added.

The scale of the problem is such that Lockheed Martin has launched four security intelligence centres around the world to conduct investigations, research and analysis and software development.

It is collaborating with the intelligence community, government agencies, social media and its customers in the commercial sector to bolster its defensive capabilities, according to Grigorios Koutsogiannis, Lockheed Martin’s Business Development Director for the Middle East and Africa.

“I can’t stress how important collaboration is in the cyber domain, it’s what allows a company to stay ahead of the threats” he said.

Koutsogiannis spoke about the need to ensure “platform survivability,” which is the defence of military platforms through “cyber hardening,” the shoring up of vulnerabilities that may be exploited by hackers.

“Cyber hardened platforms are those that have full spectrum cybersecurity, spanning physical, human, supply chain, engineering and operations. To do so, we have intelligence-driven defence that allows us to be proactive.”

These comments were echoed by Zafar, who said “we can secure our military systems and critical infrastructure by investing in both advanced technologies and the people who will lead the next generation of cyber security solutions development.”

A recent report by Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity provider, revealed that the UAE became one of the prime targets for at least three massive cyber-attacks in 2016.

Raytheon has launched a number of initiatives in the UAE to help confront these threats.

“We see the governments around the region focused on solving cyber threats by investing in education. We have initiatives designed to help our customers in the UAE and across the Middle East develop cyber talent for the future. We executed two significant events in UAE last year in partnership with local academia to help educate and bridge the cyber talent gap,” said Zafar.