Safeguarding your digital life is critical
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Safeguarding your digital life is critical

Safeguarding your digital life is critical

With their affluent, digital-savvy populations, GCC nations are attractive targets for hackers

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, we were living more and more of our lives online. We increasingly shop, bank, watch, pay bills and communicate through digital channels. As of January 2020, Internet users in the UAE spent an average of seven hours per day on the internet and three hours active on social media. In Saudi Arabia, the figures are nearly eight hours and three hours respectively.

Expanding digital footprints leave us vulnerable
The more we do online, the more our individual digital footprint grows. According to research by password management specialist, NordPass, the average person now has as many as 80 passwords, which is a lot to keep track of! The more accounts we have, the more we reuse passwords, and choose simple ones like ‘1234’ or obvious ones like our birth dates or family names.

Every digital account we sign up to holds basic, yet valuable, demographic information such as personally identifiable contact details. Others hold more lucrative data such as credit card numbers. The potential for identify theft and personal financial loss is great and the effects can be potentially catastrophic for individuals.

With their affluent, digital-savvy and mobile populations, GCC citizens and residents are particularly attractive targets for hackers. One in every 118 e-mails received in Saudi Arabia in 2018 was malicious, the highest rate in the world. With one in 183 emails malicious, the UAE witnessed the tenth highest rate globally.

Cybercriminals are hard at work
Cybercriminals use various approaches to try to elicit personal information, including phishing mails. These are mass mails sent randomly and designed to look like a piece of formal correspondence. Users are often tricked by the apparent authenticity of these mails into clicking a link, which then causes malware to be downloaded onto the user’s device. Alternatively, the user may somehow be tricked into giving away passwords or disclosing personal information that could be captured by hackers and resold or used to perpetrate identify theft. A report by PWC said the Middle East is highly susceptible to cyberattacks and larger financial losses than any other region in the world.

Now, since the outbreak of COVID-19, a host of scams trying to exploit fears over the pandemic have emerged. Examples include fraudulent disease-tracking and contact-tracing maps that, when you click on them, redirect the user to a phishing web site. Other schemes include websites that offer personal protective equipment at attractive rates, and fraudulent campaigns that claim to be from the World Health Organisation and other healthcare bodies to raise funds for COVID-19 victims. Victims are asked to enter their credit card details, which are then used to steal money, and can even end up for sale on the dark web.

The overwhelming case for identity protection solutions
Faced with such a considerable threat, there is now a strong argument for investing in third-party services that can point out signs of identity theft, prevent incidents occurring, and take corrective action when there has been a breach. Identity protection solutions can monitor instances of an individual’s personal information across the Internet and immediately flag to the user if a risk is detected. Some solutions include technology that intelligently identifies possible phishing attacks and alerts a user before they are compromised.

The UAE recently approved the establishment of a new national cybersecurity council, to secure existing and emerging technologies. The goal is to create a resilient National Cyber Incident Response Plan to enable swift and coordinated response to cyber incidents in the country.

Even with heightened cybersecurity awareness, the time is right for customer-facing organisations to offer personal protection solutions to their clients. For financial institutions, this is a particularly compelling proposition that can differentiate providers from their competitors. It helps to enhance the customers’ awareness of cybersecurity issues and demonstrates the institution’s commitment to supporting their customers.

Identity theft is a frightening prospect and cybercriminals are consistently stepping up their efforts to stay ahead of the awareness curve. With better understanding of the problem and the help of a specialised third-party solution, individuals are empowered to keep their identities safe. Just like with anything else of value, the primary responsibility for safety rests with the owner, but at least with an identity protection solution, one can benefit from greater security and peace of mind.

Steven Cunnington is the global lead for Identity Assistance Solutions at Collinson

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