Browsing 'hacking' News

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Technology firm Cisco has called for companies in Qatar to focus on earlier detection of cyber attacks, as the threat from sophisticated hackers continues to cause concern both within the region and further afield.

According to the company’s 2015 Midyear Security Report, which analyzes cyber security trends, private and government organizations need to put adequate measures in place to counter attacks, focusing on early discovery so that affected systems can be restored as soon as possible.

In a statement, Mohammad Hammoudi, Cisco Qatar’s general manager, said:

“The technology industry must up (its) game and provide reliable and resilient products and services, and the security industry must provide vastly improved capabilities for detecting, preventing, and recovering from attacks. Organizations in Qatar cannot just accept that compromise is inevitable, even if it feels like it today.”

Cisco’s report lists current methods used by hackers and writers of malware (software designed to infect computers), highlighting the exploitation of Adobe Flash and a return to the infection of Microsoft Office macros as particular areas of concern.

It also said that while spam is increasing in the US, China and Russia, volumes appear to be relatively stable in the Middle East this year.

‘Weak links’

Qatar has been the victim of several high profile Domain Name System Services (DNS) attacks in recent years, with attackers managing to reroute website requests for 10 key domains in Qatar, including the Ministry of Interior, Ooredoo Qatar and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Last year, The Emerging Cyber Threats 2014 report published by the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) – a private, non-profit organization that is part of Qatar Foundation – warned of a number of weak links in the state’s cyber security.

Meanwhile, a Safe Cities index published in January this year put Doha in 31st place out of 50 world cities in terms of its online security, well behind Gulf neighbor Abu Dhabi, which came in 9th position.

New governmental controls

Cisco’s report also argued that many governments aren’t yet ready to deal effectively with constantly evolving threats, and suggested that rules governing how private data is collected and shared continue to remain a key hurdle.

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Acting on these concerns, Qatar’s Cabinet announced in March that two new bodies designed to investigate possible online threats would be created.

The National Center for Cyber Security and National Committee for Information Security will monitor and follow up on cyber threats on government entities, and carry out the government’s  National Cyber Security Strategy.

The Cabinet also approved a draft decision to improve protection for personal data online, which would prevent companies from using such information for marketing purposes without the users’ permission.

Future threats

2013 Syrian Electronic Army hack

Syrian Electronic Army

2013 Syrian Electronic Army hack

Speaking to Doha News in 2013, Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) chief scientist Richard De Millo said the most significant digital dangers to Qatar involved “advanced persistent threats,” which are large, sustained cyber attacks typically backed by states or sizable organizations.

Along with the Syrian Electronic Army, this includes organized crime groups and activist organizations such as Anonymous.

“The bad guys are well-funded and innovating technologically very fast. Countries that want to respond need to have an innovation engine that builds up their technology and public awareness base to protect its critical infrastructure,” De Millo said.

De Millo added that ongoing public awareness is a critical component of preventing future attacks. For example, simple acts such as not opening email attachments from unknown senders and choosing suitably difficult passwords can make a big difference.

“Use common sense, the same way we teach drivers to use common sense when learning how to operate a car,” he said.


Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Yellow Filter/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Iranian hackers infiltrated Qatar’s government networks, airlines and oil and gas firms as part of a two-year campaign targeting critical infrastructure around the world, according to a new report by a US cybersecurity firm.

While Cylance did not name specific victims, Reuters reported that Qatar Airways was among the targets of “Operation Cleaver.”

The attacks centered on the military, aviation, energy and transportation sectors, among others, in 16 countries that included fellow Gulf states Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to the report.




Backing up previous remarks from US officials, Cylance also blamed Iran for a 2012 attack that took down the corporate computer systems and website of Qatar’s RasGas and Saudi oil giant Aramco.

The US firm warned that the impact of Iran’s campaign could go beyond network downtime and cause real-world damage.

“As Iran’s cyber warfare capabilities continue to morph, the probability of an attack that could impact the physical world at a national or global level is rapidly increasing,” Cylance stated.

“Iran is no longer content to retaliate against the US and Israel alone. They have bigger intentions: to position themselves to impact critical infrastructure globally.”

While Cylance didn’t provide specific local examples, previous reports said an attack on local utility Kahramaa, for example, could disrupt the country’s supply of drinking water.

For its part, a representative of the Iranian government denounced the report.

“This is a baseless and unfounded allegation fabricated to tarnish the Iranian government image, particularly aimed at hampering current nuclear talks,” said Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, told Reuters.

Shielding Qatar

Cylance doesn’t say why Iran is focused on specific targets in certain countries, except to speculate that the attacks may be an attempt to gain negotiating leverage in its ongoing discussions surrounding the end of its nuclear program.

Relations between Iran and Qatar appear to be relatively cordial on the surface. However, Qatar’s former foreign minister, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, described the relationship in late 2009 as one in which “they lie to us, and we lie to them” in a conversation with US officials, minutes of which were obtained by WikiLeaks.

Iran and Qatar back opposing forces in Syria, where Doha has been vocal in calling for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Tehran.

Syrian Electronic Army hackQatar’s support for fighters seeking to overthrow al-Assad were cited as justification by the Syrian Electronic Army for several cyber attacks in recent years, including taking control of Qatar’s .QA domain name in October 2013 and hacking Twitter and Facebook accounts belonging to Qatar Foundation in March 2013, among others.

Qatar’s government has said it is working with businesses and organizations around the country to better shield critical institutions.

In a speech last April, the Minister of Communication and Information Technology, Hessa Al Jaber, said ictQatar has developed a National Cyber Security Strategy to help fend off attacks. The main points include protecting the country’s critical infrastructure, applying international standards for limiting cyber security threats and encouraging the use of secure online services.

Additionally, Qatar adopted a new cybercrime law earlier this year that introduces new penalties for a range of digital offences such as hacking into government networks.


Computer scam

Don Hankins/Flickr

In response to a recent increase in the number of reported cyber crimes in Qatar, the Ministry of Interior has warned residents to avoid falling victim to scams that seem too good to be true.

In a statement, Maj. Ali Hassan Al Kubaisi, head of the Economic Crime Section of the Criminal Investigation Department, said that many residents have reported being duped by people who approach them online, offering to settle government fines for half the price.

He continued:

“The fraudsters would pay the fine over the violation using stolen or forged credit cards and the persons would get informed that the payment was successful while he checks in the concerned websites and would transfer the settled amount to the fraudsters. But at the time of collection it would be proved that the transaction was made by fraudulent credit cards and therefore the system will reject the payment process and the fine will return again to the customers.”

Residents who call the government to complain about being tricked are not absolved of responsibility, he added.

According to the statement, Al Kubaisi “questioned how persons could accept to pay half the value of the fines while it is restricted it to government agencies. It is a violation of the law and the persons will be transferred to the public prosecution.”

Those responsible for this scam and similar ones (i.e. fake offers to sell discounted airfares) mainly reside outside of Qatar, but there are some brokers within the country that are currently being tracked, Cybercrime Combating Center First Lt. Mudawi Saeed Al Qahtani said.

Another government official urged residents to protect themselves by not storing their personal or financial information online, instead advising that they rely on external hard drives.

Finally, the ministry asked cyber victims to report crimes by phone to 2347444 or 66815757, or via email to [email protected] It is not clear what the reportees’ liability could be, however.

Increasing cybercrime vulnerability

More than 88 percent of Qatar’s population is able to access the internet, making it one of the most connected countries in the Middle East.

Raymond Fruseth Gangstad/Flickr

This, along with the Gulf state’s wealth and political stances, has made it a prime target for cyber criminals in recent years, security experts have said.

Last month, the Qatar Computing Research Institute published a report stating that the country must take urgent action against rising cyber threats.

It highlighted several vulnerabilities, including that of residents with smartphones and tablets, which can be easily hacked into by criminals.

Another arena the Emerging Cyber Threats 2014 report focused on was the increasing reliance by individuals and organizations to host information on cloud systems, which can create a “treasure trove for attackers.”

The report warned that as the use of cloud services increase, there will be more incidents of leaked data and threats to privacy. To mitigate that risk, the experts say that sensitive data should only be stored with trustworthy cloud administrators.