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Very informative and strong group of participants and excellent dialogue. We have seen a very good conversation on cyber security regarding not just Oman but the entire region.
Senior Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton

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Interview with Shawn Henry

Shawn Henry
Formar Executive Assistant Director, Criminal, Cyber, Response, & Services Branch FBI
What are your thoughts on the current cyber security climate in the Middle East?
I think that the issue is global – and is not focused on any specific area. Though with the Middle East becoming increasingly connected special concern is needed with regards to industrial control systems.The reliance in the region on those types of networks – specifically for oil industries or water pumping and desalinating plants – displays the overreliance on the technology. It’s a massive vulnerability and I am pleased with the level of attention this issue received at the Cyber Defence Summit.

What are the biggest issues that the Middle East’s IT sector is currently facing – focusing specifically on cyber security?
The continued expansion of networks; which is very much a global issue but pertinent to the Middle East. Besides this, many individuals are using mobiles for their day to day business, and these devices are inherently insecure. It’s an area which requires attention.

What should the Middle East do to make its virtual borders less penetrable?
One of the things the Middle East has to do is collaborate. At the Cyber Defence Summit I was really encouraged to see agencies from across the GCC work together; the level of cooperation and information sharing was impressive. Intelligence is the key issue in this fight – understanding the new threats and how to respond to them is an important aspect for the Middle East.

Being a former FBI Executive Assistant Director, enlighten us as to how the American Government and its cyber security agencies are looking to play an active role in protecting the virtual borders of Middle East?
There needs to be regular government to government discussion due to the challenges we face. From the FBI perspective, I was regularly involved in developing relationships with foreign law enforcement agencies, and by sharing information about new threats and criminal groups and organisations, we were able to execute arrests and mitigate threats. This requires an understanding that such information needs to be shared.

As the President of the relatively new organisation Crowd Strike, can you provide us insight with as to what the company is doing that is different, and how is it looking to work in the Middle East?
Crowd Strike is taking cyber security to a different level. Many cyber security firms believe in firming their network perimeters and keeping their adversaries at bay, yet we believe that adversaries are so sophisticated that they will reach any network given the time and right amount of money. Thus, our model is to hunt for the adversaries in the network consistently and to bring a proactive approach to computer networks eg by disabling their parametric control and infrastructure to take them out of the network.

What is your take on the recent Flame virus that has engulfed the Middle East?
It is indicative of more sophisticated malware and the regular vigilance that is required from network operators. If everything in the media is true then the virus has been out there for quite a while and has only been discovered recently. This just displays the capabilities of the adversaries; hence one has to be constantly vigilant on the network and work to spot signs of suspicious activity.

Finally, what is your message to the Middle East for cyber security?
I was very impressed with the people that I talked to and all the discussions at the Cyber Defence Summit. The level of commitment, capabilities and passion for cyber security in all the attendees was very high. I am confident in the capabilities of the organisations and people that I met. At the end of the day, it comes down to awareness, understanding, and developing a strategy across all government agencies. The Middle East will benefit from an appropriate long term strategy – it’s something the American Government initiated, and continues to implement and adopt every day.