UAE residents rocking VPNs, cybersecurity chief says misuse ‘is a problem’

February 5, 2024
1 min read

TLDR: UAE residents are allowed to use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), but misuse of VPNs is considered a problem, according to Muhammad Al Kuwaiti, Head of Cybersecurity at the UAE Government. Under UAE law, the use of VPNs for illegal purposes or to bypass government-imposed blocks is a serious offense, with potential fines ranging from AED 500,000 to AED 2 million and imprisonment. The country saw a significant increase in VPN downloads in 2023, with 6.1 million apps downloaded, up from 4.27 million the previous year. Al Kuwaiti also highlighted the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in cybersecurity, with hackers using AI to craft phishing emails and infiltrate systems. The UAE is aiming to be an AI nation by 2071.

The UAE residents who violate the law and misuse VPNs could face imprisonment and fines between Dh500,000 to Dh2 million.

The UAE recorded the highest VPN application downloads in 2023 in the past four years, surpassing the pandemic year’s downloads of 6.09 million in 2020.

Under the UAE Decree Law No (34) of 2021 concerning combating rumours and cybercrimes, the use of VPNs for illegal means, to commit a crime is a serious offence or to hide the IP address to get access to websites/calling applications /gaming applications which the UAE government blocks.

“Risk is taken by everybody, even in the cybersecurity domain also. We ensure that risk doesn’t impact our economy’s pillars. We use AI to detect and proactively respond to many threats. We thank our partners for ensuring the safety and security of the infrastructure.”

Nord Security said the usage of VPN is common among the UAE and other Gulf residents to make audio-video calls through popular apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, Facetime, Discord, IMO, and dating apps.

Muhammad Al Kuwaiti, Head of Cybersecurity at UAE Government

The VPN penetration rate was calculated by summing up VPN downloads by country and dividing them by the country’s population. The VPN download data was extracted from Google Play and Apple App Store using Sensor Tower and AppTweak services.

Al Kuwaiti added that risks in the cybersecurity domains are increasing, and artificial intelligence (AI) has added to that complexity. “We had so many ransomware who used AI to craft their phishing emails or create and verify their codes to infiltrate,” he said. He also highlighted that the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in defending against cyberattacks is growing. He added that the centennial goal of 2071 is to make the UAE an AI nation.

“Risk is taken by everybody, even in the cybersecurity domain also. We ensure that risk doesn’t impact our economy’s pillars. We use AI to detect and proactively respond to many threats. We thank our partners for ensuring the safety and security of the infrastructure.”

Al Kuwaiti said the UAE is known for making flexible and suitable policies that allow businesses to prosper and succeed in this agile world.

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