UAE regulator warns of radicalisation through e-games

Sunday 21/08/2016
An October 2015 picture shows customers looking at computer products at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai.

Abu Dhabi - UAE authorities have called on parents to steer their children away from making online con­nections with strangers. The Telecommunications Regula­tory Authority (TRA) warned that criminals use conversations to gain an understanding of their target and identify potential weak points in their psyche, develop a relationship and ultimately direct them towards crime.
“The groups that adopt such vi­cious thinking are trying to recruit young people and adolescents through some electronic games, starting with unusual conversations with them in such a way that it re­veals their weaknesses so they can be easily exploited and instructed to commit unlawful acts,” said Mo­hammed al-Zarooni, TRA’s director for policy and programmes, in a statement from state news agency WAM.
He encouraged young people to approach their elders and the au­thorities if such groups try to con­nect with them and suggested that parents become more aware of their children’s online activities.
Recommendations by Abu Dha­bi-based think-tank Hedayah, in the 2016 Security Jam — Beyond Conventional Security Challenges report, stressed the importance of “credible messengers” such as family members, social workers, psychologists, police, youth work­ers and religious leaders to protect young people from being turned towards crime, violence, radical­ism and extremism through online activities.
Eric Eifert, senior vice-president of managed security services at UAE cyber-security company Dark Mat­ter, said: “With respect to education of parents and children about the potential dangerous side of technol­ogy and online activities, we believe parents need to understand how technology and online activities can be used to target and exploit youth.
“This will allow them to have a conversation with their children as well as monitor their activities. At a macro level, nations need to develop cyber-crime investigation capabilities that can investigate al­legations of illegal activities that oc­cur online.
“Developing online undercover operations that can detect and neu­tralise cyber-crime is one example.”
The TRA emphasised the unprec­edented pace at which technology has developed in the last 20 years, which adds another dimension to the challenge of preventing children being drawn towards crime and ex­tremism.
According to EY Cybersecurity partner Clinton Firth: “The issue here is keeping up with the various programmes, applications and their continued evolution.
“There are small government pro­grammes and some not-for-profit organisations that will help with the fundamentals, such as explaining where to find the privacy settings and what should a third party pro­vide at a minimum with respect to online security.”
He says parents must see their children’s internet safety as being of equal importance to their general well-being.
“The key is for them to take an in­terest in their kids’ online activities as they do in their physical world,” he said. “This is a priority, as the internet provides more anonym­ity and many criminals hide behind that.
“Installing third-party monitor­ing software might be an option to help get better control of children’s activities beyond just applications and into the social media platforms that are commonly used by crimi­nals.”
While the TRA statement did not specifically refer to any particular criminal groups, the Hedayah study warned of the high level of threat to the UAE posed by terrorist organisa­tions such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and the potential spread of extrem­ism and conflict, although it also stated that family homes and public places are equally fertile territory for those espousing radical ideas to look to for recruiting.
“What has been missing so far in many of the prevention pro­grammes is the offline dimension to recruitment,” said Sara Zeiger, senior research analyst at Hedayah. “The more successful models for disengagement seem to include some elements of face-to-face in­teraction or mentorship.
“Very little is being done in terms of non-coercive prevention about the transition between online inter­actions and offline recruitment.”