December 12, 2016
More than a year after a drowned Syrian toddler washed up on a beach in Turkey, the tiny refugee’s body, captured in a photograph that shocked the world, reappeared on computer screens across Saudi Arabia — this time as a prelude to a cyberattack.
The strike last month disabled thousands of computers across multiple government ministries in Saudi Arabia, a rare use of offensive cyberweapons aimed at destroying computers and erasing data. The attackers, who haven’t claimed responsibility, used the same malware that was employed in a 2012 assault against Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Saudi Aramco, and which destroyed 35,000 computers within hours.
The Middle East, home to almost half of global oil reserves and much of its natural gas, is also a magnet for some of the world’s costliest cyberattacks, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP said in a March 2016 report. The threat is set to grow as online activity mushrooms amid the region’s myriad geopolitical conflicts and tensions.