Cyberattacks, Malware, Ransomware , Cybersecurity

Fintech in the Middle East: Navigating Cybersecurity Risks

CISO of Smart Digital Payment Company on Internal Risk Management to Address Cyberthreats
Fintech in the Middle East: Navigating Cybersecurity Risks
Muath AlHomoud, CISO, Smart Digital Payment Company

Muath AlHomoud, CISO of Smart Digital Payment Company, in an interaction with Information Security Media Group, speaks about business challenges, cybersecurity landscape and privacy concerns facing the fintech industry in the Middle East region.

See Also: The Forrester Wave™: Governance, Risk, And Compliance Platforms, Q4 2023

Edited excerpts follow:

What is the current state of the fintech market in the MENA region? What are the cybersecurity challenges facing the industry?

Fintech is broadening its presence in the MENA region with the expansion of various sectors such as education, retail banking, fundraising and non-profit organizations, as well as investment management services. However, fintech companies in the region face a variety of challenges, such as regulatory compliance, limited access to funding, and lack of established infrastructure. There is also a significant number of cybersecurity challenges, such as data breaches, fraud and hacking attempts, which can damage the reputation and undermine customer trust. Additionally, it is imperative for companies to navigate complex regulatory requirements related to data protection and privacy.

Challenges How to Manage These Challenges
Malware Attacks Implement features like automated real-time malware detection and perform regular vulnerability assessment and penetration testing (VAPT).
Cloud Computing Security Issues Choose a reliable cloud service provider whose security approach is up-to-date and proactive.
Identity Theft Use more than one method for verification.
Scalability Issues
Implement a strong infrastructure mechanism from the beginning.
Application Security Breaches Perform singular vulnerability scanning of mobile or web applications used by consumers for banking activities.
Meeting Regulatory Compliance Requirements Comply with different standards related to security and data privacy, such as GDPR, PSD2, PCI DSS, etc.

What is the role of fintech companies in providing digital financial solutions for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises or MSMEs? What challenges do MSMEs face in availing loans from banks?

Fintechs play an important role in providing digital financial solutions for MSMEs, particularly related to managing cash flows and availing loans. By leveraging new technologies, fintechs are enabling MSMEs to access cash-flow-based financing and generate financial reports to demonstrate their repayment capacity and default risk to financial institutions. However, MSMEs often face the challenge of limited credit information or guarantees, as well as the risk of non-performing assets. Banks may also be reluctant to provide loans due to the perceived default risk associated with the MSME sector. MSMEs can improve their ability to access credit and equity by implementing new technologies related to agility and cash flow management. By better understanding their cash conversion cycle and generating financial reports, MSMEs can enhance the transparency of their performance and demonstrate their repayment capacity to financial institutions.

Can you provide examples of innovative solutions that have improved customer experience and operational efficiency in the fintech sector in the UAE?

There are several examples of fintech innovations in the UAE that have improved customer experience and operational efficiency. One such example is stc pay, the first and largest fintech unicorn in the Middle East that offers remittance services to more than 7.8 million users and has recently been authorized to convert into a bank. Another example is urpay, a digital wallet that offers a variety of financial services and payment options. First Abu Dhabi Bank has also been fast-tracking its digital plans, launching the Digital Marketplace in partnership with Tabby and Visa's Tap to Phone project to facilitate contactless payments through smartphones.

What measures can CISOs implement to safeguard against cyberattacks in 2023-2024?

As a CISO in 2023-2024, one needs to be updated with mitigation actions from emerging security threats while assisting the board in understanding potential security issues that may occur due to acquisitions or other major commercial transactions. It is also essential to plan, purchase and deploy security hardware and software while building IT and network infrastructure using best security practices.

Moreover, only authorized individuals should have access to sensitive data and systems, and in case of a data breach, digital forensics must be performed to create a strategy to avoid a repeat of the same catastrophe. CISOs must ensure all initiatives run efficiently and obtain the resources they require, and company leadership recognizes their significance.

Furthermore, it is important to have a thorough knowledge of legislation and standards compliance, and exemplary supervisory and incident management skills. Overall, a CISO's blueprint for security from cyberattacks in 2023-2024 involves proactive measures to mitigate risks and ensure compliance while having a plan in place to respond to potential breaches.

AlHomoud is accredited with more than 13 years of experience leading successful operations, technology and change in heavily regulated environments to optimize the protection of business-critical information and assets in line with budgets.

About the Author

Smruti Gandhi

Smruti Gandhi

Executive Editor, ISMG

Gandhi has more than a decade of experience in community engagement and incubating industry events. She is extremely proactive in building engagements with communities including CEO, CFOs and CIOs. Prior to joining ISMG, she worked with Dun & Bradstreet and Great Place to Work.

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