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14 Oct, 2023
7 min time to read

In September, Kaspersky made a significant move by launching its first Transparency Center in Riyadh, marking its entry into the Middle East market.

This milestone is a crucial component of Kaspersky's broader Global Transparency Initiative, aimed at fostering trust and ensuring the integrity of its solutions and operations.

The decision to establish the Transparency Center in Riyadh is in alignment with the objectives of "Saudi Vision 2030," which places a strong emphasis on digital transformation and aims to position Saudi Arabia as a leading technology and innovation hub. This vision has successfully attracted international companies to establish their regional headquarters in Riyadh.

Housed within Kaspersky's new Riyadh office, the Riyadh Transparency Center acts as a hub for local experts contributing to Saudi Arabia's efforts to accelerate growth in the information and communications technology sector. Kaspersky also actively supports the Kingdom's initiatives to enhance critical infrastructure by providing training and upskilling opportunities to Saudi nationals in high-tech roles.

Durov's Code had the opportunity to attend the opening of the Transparency Center and engage in discussions with Kaspersky representatives regarding their future plans for Saudi Arabia.

— Today, you're opening an office and a transparency center in Riyadh. Can you tell us more about the transparency center? Describe what this structure is and what its purpose is.

Genie Sugene Gan: Global Transparency initiative and the setting up of any transparency center around the world has always been an answer to market demand and our customer requests. Now, the beginning of this is that when people buy ICT products, any software, the feedback that we've been getting is that they're buying a black box. They don't know what's inside, and they don't know what's coded, how it's coded, or how the software is developed.

Back in 2017, Kaspersky was the first cybersecurity vendor. Even today we are the only cybersecurity vendor that has pioneered the transparency initiative and has actually opened up our source code for review.

We set the gold standard in ensuring trust and transparency and having no questions at all about the integrity of our software development and how our software is coded. There is no backdoor or anything. Our source codes are open for review by trusted partners.

Genie Sugene Gan, Head of Government Affairs and Public Policy Asia-Pacific, Japan, Middle East, Turkey, Africa

— Speaking of the Transparency Center, what is your short-term and long-term expectation from this project?

Mohamad Hashem: Today marks the opening of the first transparency center in the Middle East and Africa. Our operations in the Kingdom have seen constant growth over the past few years with the first half of the year seeing a 16% increase in YoY in total sales. Kaspersky’s Transparency Centers are intended for building trust and giving assurances of the integrity of Kaspersky’s solutions and processes. At these facilities, the company’s partners and customers can learn more about its solutions, as well as engineering and data management practices, and get first-hand experience in verifying the trustworthiness and integrity of its products.

— As a part of Saudi Vision 2030, the Kingdom is focusing on digital transformation and aims to become a regional hub for technology and innovation. You've been working in Saudi Arabia for 15 years. Tell us how the market has changed during this time.

Mohamad Hashem: Saudi Arabia is currently undergoing a digital transformation and is on its way to becoming the Middle East’s regional tech hub. With this transformation, comes an influx of vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. We are fully prepared to support this growth and continue supporting the realization of the goals set by Saudi Vision 2030. Our story begins more than 15 years ago when we first started our operations in the country, fast forward to today, where we have more than 44 employees in our office in Riyadh, out of which 43% are Saudi Nationals, and customers across almost every industry. We’re also proud to see our customers grow as we also grow in the region.

Genie Sugene Gan: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has grown significantly, far beyond double-digit or even triple-digit growth rates. Looking forward, the Cybersecurity Market size of Saudi Arabia is expected to grow from USD 0.55 billion in 2023 to USD 1.05 billion by 2028. There's been so much resolve, determination, and commitment by the government to develop the country in the area of cybersecurity in the era of digital transformation. We're witnessing strong government support for businesses and their digital transformation journey.

Mohamad Hashem, General Manager for Saudi Arabia & Bahrain at Kaspersky

— According to Kaspersky research, just a year ago, cybercrimes affected 1 in 3 users in Saudi Arabia. How is the current situation?

Genie Sugene Gan: For now, we are looking at similar numbers because of the rapid uptake in digitization. This means that we're talking about a lot of targeted cybercriminal attacks. For example, we have monitored 29 Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups across the Middle East, primarily targeting sectors such as Government, Diplomatic Institutions, Financial Institutions, Telecommunications, and Education.

This also involves attempts through ransomware attacks, where cybercriminals are looking at gaps in the ICT supply chain. This happens when we're buying black boxes, which relates to the transparency message I mentioned earlier.

— What are the major cybersecurity challenges that businesses in Saudi Arabia are facing, and how is your company helping to address them?

Genie Sugene Gan: Regarding cybersecurity challenges facing businesses in Saudi Arabia, the protection of critical information infrastructure is a major concern. This includes sectors such as oil and gas, banking, and finance, which are vital to the nation. Ransomware attacks and ICT supply chain attacks are on the rise, not just in Saudi Arabia.

This is why Kaspersky has expanded its focus to encompass not only consumer protection but also enterprise protection, including industrial protection, to enhance cyber resilience in this country. We uncover more than 400,000 new threats every day globally, and have over 1,350 patents, combined with the rich expertise and advanced solutions we bring to the table, Kaspersky is in a strong position to act as a trusted advisor to organizations across industries in Saudi Arabia.

— Can you name any local and international companies that have shown interest in this project?

Mohamad Hashem: We are closely working with the government of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Ministry of Health is one of our biggest customers in the Middle East. We also partner with various government ministries, helping them navigate the dynamic cybersecurity and threat landscape.

— What global goals is Kaspersky currently pursuing in Saudi Arabia?

Andrey Efremov: First and foremost, our roadmap involves establishing a foundation of technological trust. And we have achieved this by launching our Transparency Center in Saudi Arabia, which will benefit the whole of the Middle East. As Eugene Kaspersky mentioned, we don't offer this to just anyone due to associated risks. It's extended to trusted partners only, who sell our solutions. These partners include regulators and large enterprise customers. And, of course, we have our commercial interests at heart, which involve developing the region. If we achieve the goals we've set for this year, our growth in Saudi Arabia from year to year will reach 78%, which, in my view, is approximately one-third of all sales in the Middle East.

Andrey Efremov, Chief Business Development Officer

— You also mentioned in the press release that Kaspersky is supporting Saudi Arabia in enhancing critical infrastructure by helping locals acquire high-tech skills. Earlier this year, in May, Kaspersky launched a cybersecurity training and internship program in Saudi Arabia. Can you share more about this program?

Mohamad Hashem: The Cyber Security Academy, or what we call the Cyber Generation Program, focuses on university students and fresh graduates in cybersecurity. We aim to address the global shortage of expertise in this field. If you post a job requiring expertise, who would apply for it? Most applicants lack hands-on experience, and some have only basic skills. Our goal is to equip these students to enter the job market with a minimum level of expertise in penetration testing, script assessment, incident response, digital analytics, and more.

— Could you describe the profile of your students and elaborate on the educational process structure?

Mohamad Hashem: We have a student with no knowledge at all in cybersecurity, so we start with basic training. The program introduces them to the cybersecurity concept in general, such as what it entails, its key elements, how to stay cyber-aware, and the importance of cyber hygiene. And then we have an advanced track within the program for people who have more experience in science. Both tracks offer enrolled students the opportunity to join a research team, a technical team, or a technical support team, depending on their interests.

— Are there any female participants, and if so, have you noticed any notable trends in the increased interest of women in this field?

Mohamad Hashem: We want more women to join our programs as it's part of our mission to support women in cybersecurity. While men are welcome too, we're especially keen on having more female participants.

It's interesting to note that many women are working in cybersecurity. I personally know several female Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and have met numerous female experts in the field. Within the Saudi government too, there are many women in cybersecurity roles across different departments.

— Are you planning to expand the training program for students across MENA?

Mohamad Hashem: This is our ultimate objective. Kaspersky Academy aims to fill the gap in cybersecurity expertise globally since it is a global initiative. We have started working with Saudi Arabia, maybe tomorrow we'll extend the program to the UAE, the day after to Oman, Turkey, Africa, and so on to ensure we are doing our part to bridge the skills gap. The concept is not limited to one region, and we will continue to grow our initiative on this front.