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How can Saudi Arabia enhance its cybersecurity?

Maher Jadallah, senior director Middle East & North Africa, Tenable. (Image source: Tenable)

Tenable has said that of the cyberattacks Saudi Arabian organisations experienced in the last two years, 40% were successful

This forces security teams to focus time and efforts on reactively mitigating cyberattacks, rather than preventing them in the first instance. With 68% of Saudi organisations confident that their cybersecurity practices are capable of successfully reducing the organisation’s risk exposure, there is work to be done.

These findings are based on a commissioned survey of 50 Saudi-based cybersecurity and IT leaders conducted in 2023 by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Tenable.

Respondents were particularly concerned with the risks associated with cloud infrastructure, given the complexity it introduces in trying to correlate user and system identities, access and entitlement data. Half of organisations (56%) say they use multi-cloud and/or hybrid cloud environments.

However, over half of respondents (62%) cite cloud infrastructure as one of the highest areas of risk exposure in their organisation. In order, the highest perceived risks come from the use of public cloud infrastructure (28%), multi cloud and/or hybrid cloud (20%) and private cloud infrastructure (14%).

From the study it was evident that time is not on the security team’s side. 68% of respondents believe their organisation would be more successful at defending against cyberattacks if it devoted more resources to preventive cybersecurity.

Yet six in 10 respondents (66%) say the cybersecurity team is too busy fighting critical incidents to take a preventive approach to reducing their organisation’s exposure.

Cyber professionals cite that a reactive stance is largely due to their organisations' struggle to obtain an accurate picture of their attack surface, including visibility into unknown assets, cloud resources, code weaknesses and user entitlement systems. The complexity of infrastructure — with its reliance on multiple cloud systems, numerous identity and privilege management tools and various web-facing assets — brings with it numerous opportunities for misconfigurations and overlooked assets. 

Over half of respondents (60%) said a lack of data hygiene prevents them from drawing quality data from user privilege and access management systems, as well as from vulnerability management systems. While the majority of respondents (78%) say they consider user identity and access privileges when they prioritise vulnerabilities for patching/remediation, 62% say their organisation lacks an effective way of integrating such data into their preventive cybersecurity and exposure management practices.

A lack of communication at the highest levels complicates and compounds the cyber problem in businesses. While attackers are continuously assessing environments, in most organisations meetings about business-critical systems take place monthly — at best.

72% of respondents say they meet monthly with business leaders to discuss which systems are business critical, while 12% hold such meetings only once per year and 2% say they never hold such meetings.

“Far too many security teams are being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cyberattacks they have to react to, rather than focusing efforts on reducing risks. As the attack surface becomes ever more complex, caused by trends like cloud migration and AI, this imbalance will only deepen,” said Maher Jadallah, senior director Middle East & North Africa, Tenable

“Firefighting is not just exhausting, but also leaves the organisation open to unacceptable risks. Security teams need to change tactic to focus instead on preventative security that deflects cyberattacks and stops threat actors gaining a toehold into the infrastructure. That will need security leadership to be involved in high-end business decision making rather than consulted after the fact. Only then will steps be taken to reduce risks and strengthen defences.”