As a global innovation leader, the UAE is home to a fast-developing technological landscape. The country — which engages with its population through smart channels and extensive digital services — is rapidly on course to becoming a fully networked economy.
However, this immense opportunity also brings challenges. Digitisation is set to be a springboard for the nation but it also requires greater protection than ever before against complex new cyber security risks.
The UAE and the UK, like other nations, face ever-changing threats to their networks and critical national infrastructure. It is against this increasingly complex backdrop that both the UK and the UAE must be as committed to protecting their networks as we are to becoming two of the world’s most tech-led nations.
With £12bn of bilateral trade, around 150,000 UK nationals living in the UAE and 1.5m visitors most years, and tens of billions of investments between our two markets, we rely on each other as partners.
The UK was quick to recognise the threats to prosperity and national security from cyber attacks, and set out the country’s first National Cyber Security Strategy in 2011. In 2016, Britain launched its world-leading National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), supported by £1.9 billion of transformational investment.
While the NCSC remains a part of the UK’s national security community, it is a public-facing body that seeks to support best practice in all sectors. It is an excellent model for other countries to emulate in an area where tried-and-tested approaches are effective and transferable.
Working together to enhance our cyber resilience
Cyber security is a global as well as a national issue. Governments and organisations with information to protect the world over must join forces to combat the threat, sharing resources and best practice in what is often seen as a complex and technical subject.
However, the vast majority of network cyber security risks can be mitigated if foreseen and managed by effective, joined-up programmes.
In his speech at CyberUK 2021 recently, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, talked about the global dimension of cyber security. He highlighted recent cyber attacks such as WannaCry, which shut down vital medical equipment and left patients in jeopardy, and the recent cyber attack on the largest pipeline in the US.
As part of the global response to these rising cyber threats, Raab announced that the UK government will invest £22m in supporting cyber capabilities overseas to increase our collective defences against those who wish us harm.
Meanwhile, the UAE hosted GISEC, one of the world’s largest information security conferences. The event brought together over 8,000 tech professionals and business leaders to discuss the most pressing cyber security issues of our time. The event is officially supported by the UAE Cyber Security Council, Dubai Electronic Security Centre, Dubai Police, and Smart Dubai.
UK-UAE cyber security partnerships in action
As the UAE looks to build its cyber defence systems to support their future digital economy, a raft of UK companies — from SMEs to large enterprises — are active on the ground across the region and in the UAE, partnering with local entities to help build the local cyber ecosystem.
Large players like BT have been present in the Middle East since the 1980s. BT operates the Emirates ICT Innovation Center in Abu Dhabi, in cooperation partnership with Etisalat and Khalifa University. Its cyber arm BT Security is rapidly expanding — focused on keeping its customers safe while enabling digital transformation and new technology adoption.
Niche players like Northern Ireland-based SaltDNA are supporting Gulf governments with critical infrastructure solutions, such as high-level encrypted communication tools for justice departments and leadership meetings. As digital adversaries become ever more complex, the need for fail-safe closed communications groups is paramount.
UK tech company Zamna provides digital identity infrastructure to the travel industry to securely and remotely verify personal identity and health data to unlock travel at scale during the pandemic.
The trailblazing firm successfully trialled its multi-patented blockchain technology at Dubai International Airport, working with the General Directorate of Residents and Foreign Affairs (GDRFA) in Dubai and Emirates airline. The solution includes a mobile travel wallet that links travellers’ verified health status to their identity.
The UK is committed to working with many more UAE-based organisations to help build cyber resilience in this region so that together our digital economies can flourish safely and securely now and into the future.
Simon Hosking is the UK Cyber Security Industry Representative in the Gulf