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Establishing a safe, globally trusted digital hub in the UAE

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Author: Aloysius Cheang, Chief Security Officer, Huawei UAE 

The UAE has come a long way in exploring and deploying digital infrastructure, enhancing all economic sectors in the process and serving as a key driver for the realization of Vision 2021—as well as the longer-term goal of becoming a digital economy that harnesses data as the new oil. In parallel with that transformation, there are of course new challenges related to cybersecurity, with a rising number of cyberattacks being confronted. There is a pressing need to act decisively, with a collaborative effort, to boost defenses that counter these threats.

In fact, the UAE is well-positioned to be a regional and even global digital oasis with cyber safety at its center.  The launch of the Dubai Cyber Index earlier this year, is one example of how the government is already protecting its innovation and economic growth amid technological advances. That trust will play a critical role in ensuring peace and facilitating trade, ensuring “safe passage” in the cyber world. The magnitude of this endeavor is, however, going to be a vast undertaking.

As the country begins to prepare for its Golden Jubilee in 2021 and with events like EXPO Dubai back on the agenda, it is an ideal time to both reinforce and recognize the UAE as a globally trusted digital hub. In particular, we foresee four strategic pillars as being the foundation of this reputation over the next year.

Everyone has a part to play in cyber defense

Today the work around cybersecurity is not only confined to cybersecurity professionals. Digitization is part of everyone’s’ lives, and it will become everyone’s responsibility. As such, there is a need to build a vibrant cybersecurity ecosystem bringing together all stakeholders from the government, ICT solution providers, cybersecurity professionals, enterprises, and academia under a shared vision for the society in an informal public-private partnership.

Advocating for a “chartered” cybersecurity professional status

There is a real need to provide accreditation for cybersecurity professionals—both locally and globally. This will help facilitate standardized qualifications pathways, talent management, knowledge retention, and career development program. It will also bring recognition of the profession to be eventually regulated via a professional legislation, similar to that of a medical or legal profession. The formation of such a group will help to elevate the standing and trust accorded to cybersecurity professionals in the UAE.

Critical infrastructure protection

The ICT infrastructure of the nation is like the nerve center of the UAE’s economy. The failure of the nerve center can paralyze a country. However, a government-led Critical Information Infrastructure Protection (CIIP) plan will be most effective when supported by the entire cyber ecosystem, where you will have all the stakeholders “own“ the CIIP plan. The UAE can proactively lead coordination and information sharing efforts within the GCC to strengthen CIIP initiatives, and also do so within the wider Middle East where deeper cooperation is essential to managing global cybersecurity concerns.

Partnerships must remain key

For the “trusted hub” to be recognized at the global level, emphasis must continue to be placed on forging the UAE’s international collaborations. The UAE is in a unique position to take the lead on behalf of the region, to step up the exchange of information and collaboration with other GCC countries. This will facilitate the mutual exchange of best practices on cybersecurity, having a commonly recognized framework for information security management and cross-border legislation that ultimately allows us to have a more secure and trusted system.

In addressing these four strategic priorities, we must remember that Rome was not built overnight. The development of an innovative, entrepreneurial, and secure “digital oasis” requires a long-term game plan. After all, cybersecurity’s value is not just being a gatekeeper of data, but a critical economic enabler that will make a difference for societies across the UAE.

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