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LONDON: Organizations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the most targeted by cyberattacks among Gulf Cooperation Council countries between mid-2021 and mid-2022, according to a report published by cybersecurity firm Group-IB.

According to the research, ransomware operations continue to be the most serious cyber threat to businesses and organizations throughout the world, including the Middle East and North Africa area.

“Ransomware is likely to remain the major threat for business and governments across the globe in 2023,” said Dmitry Volkov, CEO at Group-IB.

“Ransomware gangs have been able to craft a stable market for their criminal enterprises, and the ransom demands issued to companies once they have been attacked are continuing to rise rapidly.”

Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents a targeted organization or individual from accessing devices and the data stored on them by encrypting the files.

Criminal groups in most cases demand a ransom in exchange for decryption, and if the ransom is not paid, the stolen data may be exposed publicly or deleted.

The research revealed that there were 42 ransomware attacks in the GCC between the second half of 2021 and first half of 2022, with organizations from the UAE and the Kingdom heading this particular chart, with 33 percent of targets in the UAE and 29 percent in Saudi Arabia.

The report also highlighted how energy, telecoms, IT and manufacturing sectors were the most targeted by cyber gangs.

Roland Daccache, systems engineering manager at Group-IB, said: “The Gulf is not the only target, but it’s one of the primary ones.”

According to data published on dedicated leak sites, which are websites created by a particular ransomware gang to publish stolen information, in the same period there were 2,886 companies across the world targeted by attacks.

The figures reveal a 22 percent increase over the previous year.

However, according to American blockchain analysis company Chainalysis, cybercrime gangs have seen a 40 percent drop in earnings as victims are increasingly refusing to pay ransoms.

Experts at Chainalysis estimated on Thursday that cybercriminals extorted at least $457 million from victims in 2022, $311 million less than the previous year.

Most cybercriminals are thought to be based in Russia and Iran.