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MENA: Challenges and Capabilities in Cyberspace

Format: PDF   Size: 1.4 MB   Date: Jan 2022   Pages: 38    Copyright: NATO Southern Hub   Tags: MENA - Cyberspace - Cyber Threats - Cyber Challenges - Cyber Security Responses

MENA countries are increasingly facing global cyber threats, as almost three billion people are connected to the internet through cyberspace. Strong cyber capacity is crucial for states to progress and develop in the economic, political and social sphere. Of primary concern in the MENA region is the disparity in cyber capabilities, where some countries have are very advanced while others remain considerably behind.


Although there has been significant growth region-wide in awareness of this issue and current levels of cybersecurity are increasing, many challenges persist. Recent noteworthy developments in the region's cyberspace include the rapid digital transformation of many countries, the alarming increase of ransomware activity, large scale adversarial campaigns undertaken by nation-state cyber actors, the establishment of the "pay-to-play" cyber capabilities acquisition model and the proliferation of dangerous misinformation/disinformation, in particular fuelled by a global pandemic.

Research questions:

1. What are the key challenges and vulnerabilities related to cyberspace in the MENA region?

2. How is the cyber threat landscape evolving and how are the defensive solutions effective on this evolving cyber domain in the MENA region?

3. Regarding critical infrastructure sectors and potential vulnerabilities, what are the governments' roles and strategies in addressing serious cyber threats and responding to cyber-attacks?

Key insights

  • Due to the rapid digital transformation that many states in the region have undergone, cyberspace plays an ever more important role in MENA countries.
  • MENA countries have historically faced significantly more hostile cyber activity compared to others.
  • Most MENA countries have considerable awareness of the need for cybersecurity strategies and have begun implementing frameworks in order to guide national policies.
  • Disparity in cyber capabilities of different countries in the MENA region, which includes both countries with very advanced cybersecurity capabilities (e.g. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar) and countries with very limited capabilities (e.g. Yemen, Iraq, Libya).
  • Overreliance on external cybersecurity talent is limiting the ability to rapidly advance some national strategies..
  • MENA countries are key players in global and strategically significant industries such as oil, energy and international trade.
  • Cyber extortion and ransomware deployment in the region are becoming increasingly lucrative activities for cyber criminals.
  • Well-established international and regional state-backed malicious cyber actors have a deep influence on the region's cyber landscape.
  • The current state of the MENA cybersecurity landscape presents many opportunities for cooperation.

Key recommendations

Mutually beneficial collaborations can be formed in key areas such as diplomatic relations and cyber threat knowledge and information sharing. Cyber alliances, a field where the AU and NATO could play a role, are ideal for establishing more comprehensive and effective strategies and policies.

Story by The Southern Hub


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