Mideast ‘biggest target’ of cybercrime

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The Middle East is considered the most-targeted area in the world in terms of cybercrime and loss of data, Joseph Torbey, president of the Association of Banks in Lebanon and chairman of the World Union of Arab Bankers said Thursday.

“The Middle East is one of the world’s most-targeted areas of cybercrime and data loss.

“In the event of an online attack that leads to the loss of personal data of any EU citizen or entity affiliated with the European Union, and if these institutions have not complied with the general data protection regulation, or have not reported infringements according to a Thomson Reuters report in March 2019, these entities will be subject to severe penalties,” Torbey said in his speech at the opening of the Arab Banking Compliance Forum.

Torbey stressed that Arab banks needed to be fully alert to the dangers of cybercrime and the loss of sensitive data.

“All Arab banks and financial institutions dealing with personal data of EU citizens should take appropriate measures in line with the provisions of the Public Data Protection Act, with significant changes in the way sensitive personal data is stored, processed and disseminated,” Torbey added.

Torbey said a data protection officer should be appointed in the compliance units of financial institutions and banks.

Lebanese and Arab banks have invested heavily in the development of compliance departments in a bid to foil any attempt to infiltrate the banking system by money launderers and illicit financial operators.

All these procedures are in line with the latest U.S. and European Union regulations.

“At the end of March 2019, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a draft resolution to combat the financing of terrorism, aimed at developing a unified doctrine of reference to this issue and improving the means of addressing the financing of terrorism,” Torbey said.

Torbey added that Resolution 2462 called upon all member states of the United Nations to “ensure that their domestic laws and legislation contain the grave criminal responsibility to prosecute and punish illicit financial operators in a way that reflects the gravity of the crime.”

“The document urges action to protect the confidentiality of remittances, develop the means to monitor payments by telephone and use cash and encrypted currency,” Torbey said.

He suggested technology could be a double-edged sword for the banking system around the world.

“One of the most important reasons for the complexity of the work of compliance units in banks and financial institutions is the tendency to rely heavily – and perhaps excessive – on technology in the conduct of financial and banking operations,” he added.

Torbey said the excessive use of technology by banks might allow hackers and criminals to penetrate the financial system.

He also commented on the U.S. sanctions on Iran and organizations it has designated as “terrorist.”

“We believe that U.S. sanctions have created a new challenge for international banks in general and Arab banks in particular, and dealing with them is not easy.

“Over the past few years, we have seen huge sanctions imposed by the United States on global banks for violating states and entities, and this is something that Arab banks cannot bear at all,” Torbey said.

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