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Abu Dhabi: The UAE suffers from a shortage of individuals pursuing a career in cybersecurity largely due to the lack of education on this topic in schools, experts in the capital said on Monday.

Speaking at a conference about Cyber Stability and Security in the Gulf, New York University (NYU) Professor Dr Nasser Memon of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering said that the issue needs to be addressed especially with regard to UAE nationals.

“The people we assign to protect our countries often need to be citizens of the country itself. This is why more UAE nationals need to take an interest in the field of security — as they are the ideal persons to protect their own country’s infrastructure,” Dr Memon told Gulf News. According to 999 Magazine, 35 per cent of cyber-attacks in the UAE during January 2013 targeted the banking sector, including ATM machines.

Similarly, Lt Col Awadh Al Kindi, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, added that three-quarters of UAE internet users will become victims of an online crime.

“You need people who understand security in order to be able to place it in a system. You need people who can build and design secure systems and be able to point out the vulnerabilities in existing systems. This task is not easy. Often times we are making an assumption of trust and we make an equal amount of these assumptions in real life and in the cyber world,” Dr Memon said.

“The whole world is interconnected — someone from across the world could simply knock on your virtual door and indulge in crime. Career choices are made quite often in middle school or high school where people decide what they want to become. We are losing potential security talent in schools themselves. This is why we need to find a way to cultivate this talent,” he added.

Last year, the New York University Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with the National Electronic Security Authority (Nesa), organised a cyber-forensics murder mystery challenge where high-school students in the UAE participated in solving a fictitious mystery.

“This activity was designed to help introduce them to the basics of cyber-security. We have evidence to believe that those who participate eventually develop an interest either in the security field or in engineering in general,” Dr Memon added.

The Ministry of Interior is continuously warning residents about the dangers of online fraud, urging them not to believe those who contact them to ask for money without first authenticating the source. Police officials have also advised individuals to install and regularly update their anti-virus software and to refrain from downloading pirated software.

Nobody has so far died from cyber crimes, but the results of these illegal actions are usually economically devastating, another Khalifa University-based expert said at the conference.

“We can use the values of our society to generate messages of truth and right human values, especially in response to some violent and horrific pictures and videos being circulated online,” said Sorin Ducaru, Assistant Secretary-General for Emerging Security Challenges at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), who was also speaking at the event.