Can the Middle East produce a cyber-security firm to challenge Silicon Valley?

– Bahrain is fast emerging as the regional leader in key ICT industries, such as gaming, internationally connected data centres, and now cybersecurity –

Mon 30 August 2021: Businesses of all sizes across every sector have been disrupted and forced to undergo rapid evolution and embrace digitalisation because of the Covid-19 pandemic. From safer banking, to more convenient shopping, this global shift online has largely benefited society.

But it also brings with it a new threat, to which many fresh, inexperienced, and therefore sometimes vulnerable companies are left open: cyber-crime.

The rapidly digitalising member countries of the GCC are no exception. Recent statistics from the region paint an alarming picture of cyber-attacks on the rise. Bahrain in 2020 blocked more than seven million attacks, according to TrendMicro’s annual Constant State of Flux report, while Saudi Arabia faced the same number in the first three months of 2021 alone, according to a quarterly Kaspersky report. The UAE meanwhile saw a 250 percent increase in cyber-attacks in 2020. These concerning figures are enough to make any multinational uneasy.

Smaller businesses in the region have proved to be particularly at risk of preying cyber criminals. Of course, there are certain actions SMEs can take to protect themselves. Simple things, like taking cyber risk seriously rather than viewing it as an IT issue, or raising awareness of cyber crime among employees. Staff can be instructed to install the latest software updates, be mindful of suspicious activity and phishing attacks, and to use strong passwords.

But there is a great deal more companies in the cybersecurity space can do to support the businesses and sectors most at risk. Just like the pandemic and any other challenge, the rise in cyber threats presents an opportunity. Already, ambitious, innovative and homegrown cybersecurity companies are emerging, and increasingly seeking to partner with international corporations.

Facilitating organic and sustainable growth here, in Bahrain’s ICT sector, has long been a national priority. Flexible, pro-business and often pioneering regulation has laid the foundations of our thriving ecosystem. For example, take Bahrain’s first-of-its-kind data jurisdiction law, which creates a “data embassy”, allowing data stored in Bahrain to fall under its home country’s legal jurisdiction. Or the government’s “Cloud-First Policy”, which is seeing a concerted migration of all government services to the cloud.

Bahrain’s tech-savvy population, its strategic location, advanced digital infrastructure, adoption of public clouds and training for Bahrainis looking to acquire cloud skills, have been key to attracting partnerships with global leaders in their fields which have served in turn to further bolster the local ecosystem.

Smaller businesses in the region have proved to be particularly at risk of preying cyber criminals.
Bahrain was chosen, for example, by AWS for the launch of its first Middle East ‘region’ and hyperscale data centre, a solution allowing organisations to store and transfer data more efficiently, which is already driving massive data traffic towards the region.

Through similar partnerships, Bahrain was also able to become one of the very first countries in the world to roll out nation-wide commercial 5G, enabling higher volumes of data transmission at record times.

Off the back of all this, Bahrain is fast emerging as the regional leader in key ICT industries, such as gaming, internationally connected data centres, and now cybersecurity.

In short, even as the pandemic came into full force, Bahrain was better placed than most to foster the growth of companies, which are emerging as a rapid response to the growth of cyber-attacks here in the region and globally.

Undoubtedly, it was Bahrain’s supportive ecosystem which facilitated our growth and in turn allowed us to attract and earn the trust of the major clients we are proud to serve today. We are seeing similar steps taken across the entire GCC, allowing us to pose the one question we are optimistic about: Can the Middle East produce a cyber-security firm to challenge Silicon Valley?

Mirza Baig, CEO of EDX Labs, a Bahrain-based innovation hub connecting the capabilities of software houses, VCs and incubators.

Published by Arabian Business.

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