Whilst positioning itself as a pioneer of advanced, cutting-edge technologies, the Middle East and North Africa has inadvertently become an attractive target for cyber criminals, according to global consultancy Strategy&.
As regional newspaper the Khaleej Times reports, the warning comes following a study from Strategy& which estimates that the value of the digital market in the MENA region will reach $35 billion by the end of the year.
The projections also show that overall digitisation initiatives could add $820 billion to the regional economy by 2020, creating 4.4 million jobs in the process.
However, the study suggests that the digital economy will only be able to realise its true potential with sufficient cyber-security measures – although it acknowledged that considerable effort is being made.
"Every national government in the region is striving to create a secure digital environment, but often these efforts are fragmented, tactical and reactive. And they do not include the participation of all essential stakeholders," the study said.
It added that response continues to "lag behind the ever-evolving threat landscape", with hackers having little trouble in breaching and exploiting defensive measures.
Strategy&'s findings are backed up by PricewaterhouseCoopers' 2014 Global Economic Crime Survey which revealed that cybercrime is the second most common form of economic crime reported in the Middle East.
On a global basis, cyber criminals are estimated to cost the world economy around $445 billion every year, with losses ranging between $375 billion and $575 billion, according to a 2014 report from the Centre of Strategic and International Studies.
For MENA specifically, Strategy& strongly believes in its 'CCC' framework – comprehensive in nature, intentionally collaborative, and capability-driven – in order to fend off cyber criminals, which would allow the region to take a "favourable step towards exponential growth".
One of its recommendations is for the establishment of a central national cyber-security body, which is put in charge of defining the national cyber-security agenda.
"Governments of the Middle East are the only stakeholders with the power, reach and resources necessary to develop and drive a truly national cyber-security agenda," said Imad Harb, a senior associate with Strategy&.