Nowadays, cybersecurity has become an essential element in National Security Protection Strategy for any country in the world, especially after the great transformations caused by the Corona pandemic in business systems, and the transformation of most aspects of life into virtual reality, which in turn doubled the severity of electronic risks and the resulting huge losses that may be difficult for the victims to cope with its impact quickly. To talk about the main challenges facing cybersecurity in various sectors around the world, and the most prominent solutions to overcome them, “Al-Jundi” Journal interviewed Mr. Muhammad Abu Khater, Vice President for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa at F5, a company works in the field of cybersecurity, and had this dialogue with him:
Can you tell us about the nature of F5, and the main products and solutions the company provides?
The company’s message is manifested primarily in seeking to enable its clients -from financial companies, educational institutions, commercial and governmental bodies in various parts of the world- to develop, protect and run applications that provide exceptional digital experiences. Thanks to arming these applications with automation processes and artificial intelligence based visions, they will be able to adapt to their environment changing circumstances. This will allow beneficiaries the ability to focus on core business management, accelerate the arrival time of their products to market, improve the level of their operations, and strengthen the bonds of trust with their clients.
F5 offers a comprehensive and integrated set of ideal and cutting-edge solutions that all digital institutions in the world need. The company enables its clients to benefit from a package of adaptive applications, supported by the technologies of open source platform, “NGINX”, protection solution “Shape”, and advanced cloud platform, “Volterra”.
The company’s solutions also cover to all the main ingredients needed to strengthen and push business process forward and to develop the beneficiaries, that’s by strengthening the availability of high performance application, supplying, protecting and managing the infrastructure of these modern applications, as well as accelerating the arrival of products to market without compromising on protection and performance levels, protect and improve the performance of applications across multiple cloud environments, ensure maximum protection against scams, and prevent the access of unauthorized channels to institutions networks, applications and APIs, and to identify breakdowns and of applications problems, then alleviate their effect.
GCC market is currently witnessing a strong competition between companies providing cybersecurity solutions.. what makes your products and solutions required and desirable in the eyes of potential customers?
Institutions (and clients in general) usually expect to deal with a lot of companies, in everything related to personal experiences, secure transactions, and fast, high-performance, dependable and durable applications. If these aspects are really available on the ground, they will cultivate satisfaction in the hearts of all the interested parties.
So, F5 offers a world full of truly adaptive applications, able to automate repetitive processes to achieve the highest levels of efficiency and to expand or reduce processes according to performance requirements. They protect themselves, securing holes (vulnerabilities), and collect all kinds of telemetry/data, to become more intelligent and able to introduce thoughtful insights. Our comprehensive vision also revolves around ways to facilitate exceptional digital experiences.
Since 2018, we have spent two billion dollars on deals on acquisitions of other companies, in order to achieve our vision. In 2019, the most prominent companies that have been acquired are: NGINXI, a high reliability company in the field of open-source for websites technology and applications services. It provides all forms of direct cloud-native support for container-based microservices environments and new application services such as API Management, which is customized for applications designed according to “API-first”, that is currently prevalent.
Thus, F5 offers the largest range of products in the application services field today, which ensures improving the level of application workflow and protection, across enterprise environments. Now, F5 and NGINXN are working together to bridge the gap between applications and infrastructure on the one hand, and between the developer and operations on the other.
In 2020, we acquired “Shape Security”; a company dedicated to stopping fraud and abuse online. It has enhanced protection levels F5 provides for its global package of application services, to block automated attacks and bot networks, and targeted fraud.
In order to provide an open source terminal platform, software-defined public cloud environments, with high and advanced levels of security, and a global technology based on the concept of “design once, deploy globally”, we merged with “Volterra” this year. This has led to the creation of a sophisticated and modern platform, managed by unlimited scale of applications; based on the concept: “Protection First”.
What are the main challenges facing cybersecurity solutions in various countries around the world?
The main challenges facing cybersecurity solutions are reflected in the large rise in size, complexity and severity of threats, in addition to large scale of the threats at an accelerating tempo. The prevalence of attacks, including credential theft, scams, and distributed denial-of-service attacks witnessed a significant rise. The number of annual incidents of leaking credit data was almost doubled during the period between 2016 and 2020. Based on the results of F5’s latest version of “Credential Stuffing Report” report. Meantime, the fraudulent accident rate rose by 220% during the peak of the global Covid-19 epidemic spread, compared to the annual average, according to the statistics of the fourth version of “Phishing and Fraud Report”.
How do you see the actions taken by the United Arab Emirates in order to address the various problems and challenges of cybersecurity?
- The United Arab Emirates occupies an advanced and leading position, at the regional and global levels, in addressing all matters and issues relating to cybersecurity. National security is the best way for UAE to develop a strong foundation for a national vision. It is clear that the government of UAE gives cybersecurity the bulk of its interest and investments, in order to drive the growth and development of the country towards achieving its ambitious digital goals. The UAE has created high bodies and agencies; specialized in contributing to setting and developing strategies, policies, and solutions related to cybersecurity.
What are the sectors that should intensify their efforts -now or in the future- in cybersecurity field in the region ?
All sectors stand are in a row as targets for cyber attacks, so they should work hard to improve their level of cybersecurity. However, we see a huge demand for security and protection solutions from industries that rely heavily on their digital interfaces; including education, banking, financial institutions, and government agencies.
In 2020, four sectors -financial institutions, insurance, education, health care and professional services /technical- witnessed the largest number of breaches globally. The highest percentage of them are attributed to malicious ransom software: “Blackbaud”, according to the results of the research study issued by F5 laboratories. We usually observe a close correlation between trends in cybersecurity breaches globally, in the Middle East and North Africa, so we will continue to focus on protecting our customers in all sectors, especially in the financial, educational and governmental sectors in the region.
What is the important role played by cybersecurity at the level of defense and security sectors today?
Defensive security occupies a top priority in the infrastructure field, and it is important for governments anywhere in the world to invest significantly in the cybersecurity of their defense systems, because they are considered the first line of defense for any state. Implementation of any type of infrastructure or defense programs requires investing in advanced security solutions.
It is expected that the value of the global security solutions trading market will reach 20.17 billion dollars by 2026, up from 15.85 billion dollars recorded in 2020, according to statistics released by “Mordor Intelligence”; a consulting company. The industry is also witnessing a dynamic interactive change to keep up with the march of progress and development taking place in the IT sector, including the use of new methods to investigate and gather information. As well, there is a growing need for collecting, sorting and using of structured data. All this requires higher levels of cybersecurity available.
The world has witnessed a boom and a big increase in the pace of electronic risks and threats during the pandemic. Do these risks and threats still exist and pose a burden on the scene of the cybersecurity?
Certainly, there has been a rise in some types of security threats related to cybersecurity during the spread of the epidemic, which reflects the nature and tactics of electronic crime. It is usually characterized by dynamic and interactive response. On the other hand, cybercriminals and hackers are always hiding under the cover of global events, which has become a growing and highly complex methodology. Therefore, we will continue our efforts to monitor attacks associated with changes in business practices, as a result of the pandemic. It is likely that credential theft and fraud attacks will be launched under the headings and topics related to the epidemic, as this trick is more likely to be used and succeed for the foreseeable future.
How do you address all of the problems and the challenges facing the scene of cybersecurity, in the light of the rapid technological developments, which may lead to many risks ?
The adoption and credence of modern and advanced technology will lead to the emergence of weaknesses or security holes, which is normal. The biggest example of this is the increasing numbers of networked devices, along with the rise of edge computing. However, it is often a lack of awareness, or delay in realizing the need to protect new technologies. So, F5 follows a comprehensive and integrated approach in the area of cybersecurity, in order to ensure that institutions enjoy all the advantages and characteristics of modern innovations, such as the fifth generation of wireless communication networks (5G), edge computing, and artificial intelligence, without compromising their security. Oftentimes, new innovations have the potentiality to enhance security levels, as in the case of investing in artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to identify security threats.
What are your future plans?
F5 intends to enhance its presence in the UAE markets, and throughout the Middle East and North Africa, in order to help organizations improve the level of their operations, the security of their applications, and their overall performance. We are also committed to work closely with all of our clients in the Gulf region, particularly in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. We have promising plans to enhance our resources there. For example, the company plans to create local “points of presence” in both countries, which would help us to strengthen and diversify cloud security offers on the local market level, as well as enable us to comply with the requirements and needs of privacy policies and local government data.
In addition to the above, the company is working to allocate large investments in favor of consolidating partnerships with local institutions to supply managed services, in order to ensure that the small and medium-sized businesses can access our solutions, which is extremely important in helping governments achieve their own economic diversity goals.
What are your tips for individuals and companies to be able to secure adequate protection against cyber attacks?
Cybercriminals usually target the applications, through the exploitation of security holes and vulnerabilities, as well as the misuse of access mechanisms and regular channels in order to obtain sensitive data, then they launch large scale scams. This causes serious disorder in the workflow mechanism. Accordingly, security solutions should provide the necessary protection for strategic business outcomes.
As for individuals, it is usually related to the extent of compliance with the implementation of key practices, and using new versions of antivirus programs, pay attention to scams, as well as using Two-factor authentication mechanisms and strong passwords when using services online. Always access to all updates on new threats, especially those using social engineering tricks.
Mohamed Abu Khater is the Vice President of F5, for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa.
Abu Khater has more than 17 years of experience in the technology sector.
He is charismatic, experienced, and has the spirit of leadership. He has worked with high-performance teams in sales and distribution channels across GCC and Africa.
Mohammed Abu Khater started his career with F5 in 2019, where he served initially as Regional Vice President of Sales in the Middle East and Africa.
Before that, Mohammed Abu Khater worked with “FireEye”, where he emerged strongly after achieved impressive achievements, when he took office as vice president in the Middle East and Africa. He also held several other positions in regional sales management and other key sectors for more than six years with “FireEye”.
Before that, he worked at “Blue Coat Systems”, where he left his mark when he led the regional sales and systems engineering department.
Interviewed By: Razi Ezzedine Al-Hadmi
Photography: Muhammad Hassan Al-Shaer