Middle Eastern nations are, by some measures, among the hardest-hit by attackers taking advantage of cybersecurity vulnerabilities: computing devices in the Middle East are currently infected at nearly four times the global rate, according to a Strategy& analysis of Microsoft research, an imbalance that has grown worse in recent years.
“The resources of Middle East countries and their rapid adoption of digitization have made the region an attractive target for a wide array of cyber threats,” the Strategy& analysis found. “Indeed, governments and large organizations in almost every vital sector of the region have sustained damage from cyber attacks.”
One key building block for upping a nation’s cyber defenses? Defining a national talent strategy, the Strategy& research argued, including building national cybersecurity curricula at the university level, building collaboration with international organizations and convening high-level discussions about the issue to raise general awareness.
To play a part in building tomorrow's excellent cybersecurity talent, Northrop Grumman hosted a two-day cyber security awareness and training session called “CyberArabia” for students at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The purpose of the event, held April 28-29, was to build interest and excitement for this critical, in-demand career field.
The CyberArabia program builds on the Cyber Patriot program in the US, created by the Air Force Association and presented by the Northrop Grumman Foundation, and a similar program in the United Kingdom, sponsored by Northrop Grumman, known as CyberCenturion.
“Northrop Grumman was thrilled to host CyberArabia at King Saud University,” said Walid Abukhaled, chief executive, Northrop Grumman Saudi Arabia. “The demand for cyber defenders has never been greater and we appreciate the university’s foresight in understanding the importance of grooming future cyber talent to protect the Kingdom.”
Students learned important cyber security principles such as encryption and account management in addition to security tools like firewalls before breaking into teams and going head-to-head in cyber defense competitions to put their newly-acquired skills to the test.
Teams were scored on how fast and thoroughly they identified and remediated cyber vulnerabilities and intrusions – similar to what a cyber defender does to protect information and networks.
“Numerous students told me their 'participation in the CyberArabia competition was a great chance to prove their skills' and that it was ‘fun participating in the competition,’” said Abir Benabid Najjar, vice head of the Software Engineering Department, in the College of Computer and Information Sciences at King Saud University. “Another student described it this way: 'The CyberArabia competition opened up a new perspective for security to us, as it was our first time working on a cyber security-related area.'"
Learning such skills could pay off for Saudi students in the not-too-distant future. The Middle East cybersecurity market is projected to grow more than 13 percent per year to reach $9.5 billion by 2019, according to investment research group Markets and Markets.
And as the market grows, so too will opportunities for young talent.
“Our workshop offered students a chance to learn about cyber defence as well as the amazing career opportunities available in cyber security,” said Diane Miller, director, CyberPatriot Programs, Northrop Grumman. “Our partnership with King Saud University facilitated a critical transfer of knowledge about cyber defense training and awareness that will help students to build the skills needed to thrive in this field.”