Saudi Arabian cyber-defence agency ramps up with range of new partners

06 June 2018 4 min. read

Saudi Arabia has been ramping up efforts to develop its cyber-security capacities in recent months with the signing of numerous agreements on education and infrastructure, including deals with Kaspersky and US advisory Booz Allen Hamilton.

National agency The Saudi Federation for Cyber Security and Programming (SAFCSP) has in recent months stepped up its efforts toward developing the Kingdom’s cyber-defence capabilities to international standards as mandated in the Vision 2030 agenda, inking deals on a range of initiatives with, among others, Kaspersky Labs, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen Hamilton.

In contrast to reports that Saudi Arabia is in the process of consolidating its consulting channels into colossal single contracts per ministry, the ramp up has seen a range of expertise brought in recent months to boost everything from training and education, public awareness, and cybersecurity architecture, kicking off in February with an MoU with the SANS Institute, a world leader in specialised cybersecurity training.

Saud Alqahtani, the President of SAFCSP said; “Signing this agreement with a distinguished company in cyber security training such as SANS will open great horizons for the members of the Federation through professional certifications. The MoU will enable the localisation of cyber security skills in national critical infrastructures and contribute in realising the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.”

Since then, the SAFCSP has brought in several other cybersecurity and defence players, following the announcement it would establish a specialist college in cyber security, programming and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Recently, the digitally-minded professional services firm Accenture has concluded in an analysis that the Kingdom could boost its gross value add by over $200 billion in under ten years though the introduction of AI technologies to its production sectors alone.Saudi Arabian cybersecurity agency ramps up with range of new partnersTo bolster the development of its new cyber education institute, according to the agency, the SAFCSP in March announced further deals with US advisory Booz Allen, and other big-name aerospace and defence-sector firms Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, as well as the non-profit US aerospace mouthpiece The Airforce Association.

With an office in Riyadh among six regionally – including Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Cairo, Doha and Dubai, and a presence in the Middle East for over sixty years, Booz Allen will be tasked with helping to promote the development of cybersecurity expertise in the Kingdom, such as through a cyber-challenge competition aimed at honing the skills of local students and industry professionals. Globally, the firm has an approximate headcount of 25,000 with revenues above $6 billion, and was one of the agencies recently contracted to help promote Saudi Arabia’s contentious humanitarian programme for Yemen.

Booz Allen executive vice president Christopher Ling said of the new collaboration; “We are excited to partner with SAFCSP to expand our commitments for the development of cybersecurity capabilities within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This new partnership will facilitate exciting new skills-development opportunities for cybersecurity students and professionals in the Kingdom to ensure a capable cyber workforce is ready to meet the demands of the Kingdom's Vision 2030 and to support their National Cyber Strategy.”

In April, a busy SAFCSP added to its already bulging roster of associates by signing further agreements with Saudi Telecom for the provision of training and smart services; Saudi electronics research and manufacturing firm Advanced Electronics, to ‘provide encryption systems, remote control systems (SCADA) and C4i systems,’ and; Moscow head-quartered cybersecurity and anti-virus experts Kaspersky Labs, on infrastructure and technical training – augmenting an earlier deal with MENA-region cybersecurity and market consultancy VirtuPort.

The SAFCSP is otherwise known as the Saudi Arabian Federation for Cyber Security, Programming and Drones, and operates under the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee. According to Kaspersky threat mapping, Saudi Arabia is the most cyber-targeted nation in the Middle East (and 17th globally ahead of the UAE), and recent, apparently politically-motivated attacks on local petrochemical plants are believed by cyber-security firm Symantec to have been intentionally designed to cause fatal explosions.