Residents in the UAE are permitted to use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), but its misuse “is the problem,” said the country’s cybersecurity chief.

“We have no problem with people using VPNs, but using it for bad things is the problem,” Muhammad Al Kuwaiti, Head of Cybersecurity at UAE Government, told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of G[P]RC Summit.

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, according to the latest update of the Global VPN Adoption Index by Atlas VPN.

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.

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

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.

The UAE residents downloaded 6.1 million VPN apps last year, an increase of 1.83 million from the previous year.

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. Download data includes the 45 biggest VPN providers.

AI used to create phishing emails

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.”

He 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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