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November 19, 2020 10:17 am

UAE Views Israel as a Strategic Cybersecurity Partner, Says Head of National Cyber Authority

avatar by Omer Kabir / CTech

An El Al plane is seen on the ground in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Aug. 31, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Nir Elias / Pool.

CTech – “We want to learn from Israel. You have built a very successful ecosystem that includes the creation of technology, with small and medium-sized companies that become big entities and aid all the systems and strengthen cybersecurity across the world, creating a safe and secure environment for all businesses to operate in,” Mohammad Al Kuwaiti, the Executive Director of the UAE’s National Electronic Security Authority said in an interview with Calcalist.

Al Kuwaiti joined the NESA in 2013 as the Executive Director of Government Operations, where he managed the national and international government relations. He held various positions there including the Executive Director of Operations Analysis and Cyber Security. Previously, he served as the Chief Technical Analyst at the Ministry of Interior and was also stationed at The Embassy of The United Arab Emirates-Defense, Air, and Naval Military Attaché Office in Washington, DC.

“The UAE went from being an electronic government to being a mobile government and now a smart government. The visionaries in our leadership are now pushing to become an artificial intelligence government,” said Al Kuwaiti. “We want all our citizens to be able to run their business and activity from their cell phone.”

Al Kuwaiti said the UAE has been dealing with a variety of cyberattacks, including ransomware, zero-day, DoDS (denial of service), and phishing.

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“There are many threats, including organized attackers from Iran and Russia. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize which country the attack is coming from and that takes a lot of work,” explained Al Kuwaiti.

Israeli cybersecurity companies were active in the UAE through their international branches even before the countries agreed to establish full diplomatic relations this past summer. However, Al Kuwaiti said that activity has intensified significantly since the Abraham Accords were signed.

“We have started to sign many business agreements, not just in sectors like agriculture, healthcare, and oil and gas, but also in sectors like cybersecurity, technology digitization, and even education,” said Al Kuwaiti. “A lot of small and medium-sized Israeli businesses are coming to the UAE looking for partners and relationships. Israel has the best talent in the field and we are working together in order to protect the digital space. That is our passion and we are aiming to expand that.

“Israel is our strategic partner,” he added. “The software and hardware products Israeli companies have built help us strengthen our existing capabilities.”

One of the known characteristics of Israeli entrepreneurs is their chutzpah. How will this directness fit in with the business culture in the UAE?

“This matches many of the things we have here. There is direct access to the leadership here and anyone can meet them. Our leadership makes sure there are no barriers between people and companies and the government and the leadership and that creates trust. Trust is built on transparency and creates better relationships. That is what we are looking for and those are the best characteristics in the Israeli businesses that we have here today.”

One Israeli company that reportedly operates in the UAE is NSO Group, the developer of the Pegasos spying application. There have been allegations that UAE organizations used NSO to spy on opposition leaders and leaders of foreign countries.

“I’ve read many accusations and claims. What I do know is that NSO provides a tool that can help national security bodies to fight terrorism. Terrorism has hurt both us and Israel. If NSO, or other companies, can provide tools that help in this fight without hurting a person’s privacy, and with the authorization of the courts, and are being used by law enforcement agencies, that is something that can prevent terror and save lives.”

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