Martin Veitch (Middle East) - Interview: Kaspersky Regional MD on Cyber-Attacks, Internet Disconnect and Opportunity

The managing director of Kaspersky Lab in the Middle East, Tarek Kuzbari has some close-up insights into cyber-attacks. The company was at the forefront when it came to detecting the Flame malware that was reportedly an attempt to spy on Iran and other countries in the region, and Kuzbari has a stark warning: either fix the problem or risk having an internet that is compromised and partially closed.

“We need to stop these threats because we really do believe that if it doesn’t stop we’ll have to rethink how the internet will be,” he says, speaking by phone from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the company has its regional HQ. “We’ve already seen Iran considering disconnecting the Net from the whole country.”

However, and perversely, the looming threat of digital tools being used to bring down countries has also had a positive effect, Kuzbari says.

“There has been lots of concentration on cyber-attacks and cyber-crime and we saw a lot of attacks like Stuxnet. This has raised awareness of the need to protect from government and business, and even to consumers asking ‘what does security mean for me?’”

Set up in 2008 to cover the region, Kuzbari’s remit stretches diversely over 25 countries in the Middle East and north Africa. Kuzbari says Kaspersky has outperformed, moving from number eight to contesting leadership in consumer and business categories, but the regions have some familiar challenges. Lack of regulation against software piracy in some countries means Kaspersky has to conduct a hard sell on technological and “peace of mind” advantages of paying for genuine software, as well as assembling a strong partnering programme.

And even when Kaspersky can persuade people to pay, the very different wealth patterns across the regions covered mean different pricing levels are necessary.

“It goes from Qatar where people earn an average of US$120,000 per year to Eritrea where there are few cellphone users. The best download speed I got on a recent visit [to Eritrea] was 14 kilobits per second and there’s limited access to the internet or PCs.”

Change is a constant and Syria, Israel, Egypt have all recently held elections. Also, Kaspersky has to negotiate some tricky areas, working with the ITU, the UN and organisations like Interpol to stamp out cyber-attacks and espionage.

It “sometimes helps” to be a Russian company rather than yet another American software giant, Kuzbari says. He adds that the company’s position “in the middle” of the action is leading it to get more deeply involved in helping governments and organisations nurture their own security skills and to co-ordinate defences and best practice approaches.

But in this often polarised and fragmented part of the world there is also a great deal of potential for growth.

“We’re not talking just about AV solutions but complete security solutions: encryption, application control, mobile device management, and setting up research centres and education programmes,” Kuzbari says. “We’re really very positive and there are more and more opportunities.”


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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