How are Banks in the UAE responding to Cyber-Attacks?

Panel discussion in progress at the Middle East Banking Innovation Summit 2014

Panel discussion in progress at the Middle East Banking Innovation Summit 2014

Here in the UAE alone, with a population of just about 10 million people, we already have 23 local and 28 foreign (international) banks operating in the country and the banking industry does get really competitive. The country as a whole is often seen as ‘overbanked’ and as one would imagine – having over 50 banks that in turn have a network of around 1,200 branches, ought to be enough to service the most discerning customers. But according to a study conducted earlier this year (the first Brave Index), customer service standards overall at banks are still below the global service delivery benchmarks and work is being done to ensure that there is steady improvement.

Innovation is key when it comes to the world of banking and in a bid to offer consumers an enriching experience; UAE banks are adopting new strategies to introduce tailored products and services. In fact, just a couple of days ago the Commercial Bank of Dubai has offered its customers a mobile application that allows their ‘fitness-conscious customers’ to earn higher interest rates on their savings based on the number of steps taken in a day calculated by their Fitbit or Jawbone fitness devices.

Technology really has spurred a massive growth of services offered by banks in the UAE which are really convenient to use and while we have Apple Pay or the recently launched Samsung Pay – the Emirates National Bank of Dubai (ENBD) became the front-runner last year with their launch of mobile money transfer via the ‘mePay’ app.

At the moment in the UAE, online banking is still the most dominant approach when it comes to companies trying to manage their accounts or even individuals trying to pay their utility bills but the penetration of mobile internet in the UAE and the fact that telecom operators like Etisalat and Du have made it more affordable for users to take up packages that include mobile data has increased the popularity of mobile applications and paved the way for mobile banking in the country.

While there has been a tremendous growth in the adoption of technology by the banking and financial services sector – the growth is intrinsically linked with major concerns and threats of cybercrime. According to the UAE’s National Electronic Security Authority (NESA), cyber security is one of the biggest economic and national security challenges facing countries worldwide in the 21st century. The most common cyber security threats that we have seen in the UAE include phishing emails, spyware, data theft, web application exploits and website defacement which has prompted the government to put plans in action to stop these hackers from reaching our electronic borders.

The threats of cyber-attacks are very real and just last month, several banks in the UAE were hit by a coordinated cyber attack, which severely affected online operations and left some of us in the UAE with fraudulent transactions on our credit cards and bank accounts which took a while to get corrected. In recent years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of online security breaches in the Middle East and cyber-attacks are becoming more sophisticated – rightly so, a new research indicates that banks and securities companies in the Middle East are posed to spend USD 12.9 billion on upgrading their IT products, services and infrastructure.

For the banking sector in the UAE, risks associated with cyber security have not allowed for complete adoption of the technology available globally and this in turn means that local banks have been unable to reach their full potential yet. Instead, an industry report indicates that banks are investing heavily to build their defenses and bolster their IT infrastructure to prevent unprecedented cyber attacks. The report also highlights a future growth rate of 17% for the IT Security Services industry in the UAE with an overall value of AED 1.7 billion (USD 473 million) in 2018 alone.

In order to actively combat cyber-crime and cyber-attacks in the banking industry, it is important for the industry to gather and discuss pertinent issues so that best practices and experiences can be shared. And in the next three weeks, Dubai will once again host the 5th Annual Middle East Banking Innovation Summit on the 14th & 15th of September 2015 at Sofitel The Palm Resort & Spa. This will be an ideal opportunity for industry professionals to listen to experts and to check out the latest technology offerings for the industry setup as part of the ‘Banking Innovation Lounge’ at the event.

Feel free to follow the link and find more information about the event and view the conference agenda – http://www.bankinnovation-me.com/

– Brad Hariharan, Regional Director, Expotrade Middle East

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