Exclusive Interview: How CyberX is driving cyber awareness within Arab societies

After successfully launching an all-Arabic podcast series to increase cyber awareness within Arab societies, Mohannad Alkalash, Founder of CyberX talks about his vision for the project and ambitions beyond the Kingdom

CyberX, Cyber security, Saudi Arabia, Mohannad Alkalash

Hackers and their attack techniques are evolving faster than ever in this hyperconnected world. Consequently, the challenge of protecting data and digital assets has exacerbated as technology-driven organisations find themselves increasingly vulnerable to cyber risks. Over the past few years, there has been a significant rise in cyber-attacks, and sophisticated cyber threats have become a key concern for organisations around the globe.

Rapid digitisation and cloud adoption have renewed the focus on cyber security. Thus, cyber security has gained strategic weight on the executive-level agenda with adequate budgets being allocated to defend against the level of sophistication and capabilities of the threat actors. This increased investment in security is reflected in market studies that forecast the spend-ing on information security and risk management and services to continue to grow through 2020.

Cyber security landscape in Saudi Arabia

Market research firm IDC predicts that the global cyber security market will break the $100bn barrier in 2020. According to IDC’s first Worldwide Semi-annual Security Spending Guide, spending on security-related hardware, software and services will grow by 8.3% from $73.7 billion in 2016 to $101.6 billion in 2020. This is further corroborated by IDC’s CIO Survey in Saudi Arabia, which highlights that nearly 60% of CIOs in the Kingdom see managing security as their biggest ongoing technology challenge.

A recent IBM report has found that the cost of cyber-attacks on businesses in the UAE and Saudi Arabia reaches $6.53 million per attack. The prime motivation for cyber criminals is data theft with the average cost of a breach working out at $188 per stolen record – an 8.5% increase from the 2019 figures.

Our initiative aims to increase awareness by addressing the unfamiliar or less tackled subjects, get updates on the developments in the cyber space, validate truths and debug myths: Mohannad Alkalash, Founder of CyberX.

CyberX, a cyber awareness platform

It would be fair to say that cybercrime is the greatest threat to every company in the world, and one of the biggest problems faced by humankind. As threat actors change tactics - from the organisations they choose to attack, to the techniques used to implement, to the types of harm they unleash and inflict – there is a growing need for well-defined cyber resilience strategies.

To address the growing demand for cyber safety, the Co-Founders of CyberX, Mohannad Alkalash and Reem AlZamil launched CyberX in February 2019.

CyberX is a non-profit cyber awareness platform that was launched under ‘Ataa’ a governmental initiative in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. CyberX is headquartered in Saudi Arabia and has official representatives in Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. The company plans to expand its footprint in all Arab countries and become the first go-to directory for cyber awareness in the Arab world with a global mark.

The CyberX platform comprises of a series of podcast episodes that hosts security specialists. The series discusses the latest challenges and opportunities in cyber security and brings forth insight from the experts’ collective experiences.

Mohannad Alkalash, Founder of CyberX explains that with the explosion of data through internet-enabled devices and the use of IoT, cyber threats are growing faster than they can be mitigated. “Our initiative aims to increase awareness by addressing the unfamiliar or less tackled subjects, get updates on the developments in the cyber space, validate truths and debug myths,” he adds.

The Government of Saudi Arabia is already playing an active role in addressing these issues by increasing its digital infrastructure investments, establishing development and training programs for Saudi nationals and modernising information security governance.

Saudi Arabia established the National Cybersecurity Authority (NCA) in 2017 to centralise cyber security controls and the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) to serve as the technical and operational arm of the NCA. The NCSC monitors supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems across government entities, particularly in the energy and industrial sector.

Alkalash adds that these efforts seek to enhance cyber security for critical national infrastructure through improved information sharing and threat mitigation strategies through a national information-sharing blueprint.

Increasing awareness

Education plays a critical role in helping organisations strengthen their security posture and enable them to  defend against the increasing volume of continually evolving threats. Equipped with the right skills and knowledge, IT security teams can understand the dynamic digital cybercrime landscape and act responsibly.

Mohannad Alkalash: As you increase your awareness, you become more responsible and proactive in using technology and the internet to build a more innovative and inspiring Arab world. Needless to say, we will be by your side to provide you with that knowledge and guidance, so follow us on @CyberXWorld and get your cyber awareness journey started.

While the annals of hacking are studded with tales of clever coders finding flaws in systems to achieve malevolent ends, the fact is that most cyber-attacks begin with a simple email. More than 90% of successful hacks and data breaches stem from phishing, emails crafted to lure their recipients into clicking a link, open a document or forward information to someone they shouldn’t.

A recent Mimecast report reveals that 60% of organisations expect to suffer from an email-borne attack. Further, nearly one-third of those surveyed reported having been hit by malicious activity spread from employee to employee. This clearly indicates the need for security awareness and training to create a cyber-aware workforce.

Human error in cyber security may lead to dramatic consequences for the organisations. An IBM report found that 59% of data breaches in the UAE and Saudi Arabia were as a result of malicious attacks by nefarious actors, while 24% were due to system errors and 17% were down to human error.

“The above statistics indicate that the human factor is the most important asset to be educated on how to be protected from any cyber-attack. That was our driving force to launch various visual products – to increase awareness, educate and guide different society segments,” Alkalash adds.

Alkalash explains that the financial losses from such breaches indicate that companies have been underestimating the power of such threats and the importance of training employees to recognise and defend against cyber-attacks.

To increase cyber awareness, CyberX is also introducing ‘CyberX software’ to enable collaboration with businesses on addressing their security concerns and tackling security gaps from several angles. This will be achieved through the CyberX Learning Management Software, which integrates with ‘CyberX Phishing’ to offer a full cycle of automation and access to the right content.

“We aim to spread awareness and knowledge on cyber security among Arab societies and to enrich them with technical comprehendible content. In addition to educational content presented in various forms that are appropriate to the nature of the content, CyberX is characterised by renewed ideas that are analysed by experts in the field. We aspire to continuously raise social cyber awareness through visual, auditory, and interactive content as well as initiative solutions and to inspire a more aware, responsible, and secure Arab society,” adds Alkalash.


Behind the scenes

The CyberX series was produced in-house in collaboration with specialised agencies. The CyberX team exceeds 50 specialised members including researchers, and experts in content writing, social media management, video making and animations in addition to subject matter experts. 

The team at CyberX is working on an immersive ecosystem that not only ticks the box of a docutaining show but also creates a user experience that leads straight to actionable solutions for all individuals and businesses.

“We’ve been very blessed with the response and success of our current season, so we looked at ways of elevating content creation to something that will turn everyone’s attention to the cyber and digital realm. We’re working behind closed doors so forgive us for keeping the details a secret, but we’ll share some exclusive details with you: it will be the season premiere of a docu-series that has never been aired in the region or the world before. Even though our timeline was revised due to the current pandemic and its impact on global travel, we are working our way around it to ensure its launch the soonest possible,” explains Alkalash.

In the series, there will be dedicated episodes that discuss cyber security. The main aim is to offer comprehensive coverage that will ease the viewer’s introduction into the subject and its key elements while providing valuable insights and guidance - all narrated in a simplified and stimulating storytelling format that will keep the audience engaged and Xcharged throughout the episode.

“Our purpose is to ensure you end the episode fully ‘docutained’; educated with the most valuable knowledge, and entertained with forward-thinking creativity. All the content will be in Arabic, a first of its kind in the world. Did I give away too much?” he quips.

Forward-thinking

Everything that ‘lives’ in cyber space is potentially at risk. Cyber space, cyber  security infrastructure, intellectual property, private data, and even national security, cyber and military can be compromised by deliberate attacks, and the vulnerabilities of a relatively immature, unregulated global internet.

Cyber awareness can be intimidating but only in the absence of knowledge. The cyber-world is not going anywhere and will keep evolving at much higher rates as we head into the future.

Alkalash adds that CyberX intends to continue developing its content and solutions to ensure that Arab societies evolve their relationship with technology and the internet, and create a future rich with innovation and forward-thinking culture.

The CyberX platform comprises of a series of podcast episodes that hosts security specialists. The series discusses the latest challenges and opportunities in cyber security and brings forth insight from the experts’ collective experiences.

“Our team has expanded into inspiring minds from around the region that are constantly energised and stimulated by the technological changes that we encounter every day. We are all working on a mind-charging evolution plan that will take content creation, education, business solutions and e-commerce to another level; moreover, we will be launching CyberX series soon.”

Alkalash adds that this project will be relevant and useful for all industries that are concerned with keeping up with the cyber and digital evolution and trying to figure out how to stay ahead of the game. “We want to provide a platform of knowledge that will draw a clear picture of the current status of technological evolution and highlight possibilities for swift adaptation. Our purpose is to propel every force in the Arab world towards an ever-evolving future and eliminate possible technological conflicts that usually leave many businesses tangled.”

Alkalash concludes by adding that there are simple steps that one can take to feel more in control of their privacy and safety. “As you increase your awareness, you become more responsible and proactive in using technology and the internet to build a more innovative and inspiring Arab world. Needless to say, we will be by your side to provide you with that knowledge and guidance, so follow us on @CyberXWorld and get your cyber awareness journey started.”

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