UAE regulator warns of radicalisation through e-games
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.”