Where does the E-Government Stand after Serious Cyberattack on Country’s Most Important Establishments?

2020-01-18 - 11:59 am

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Bahrain has been hit during the past few years by serious cyberattacks that caused severe damages, the most recent one was the hacking of Bahrain Oil Company (Bapco) which led to damaging more than 2000 computers, encryption of the company's data by the hackers, re-engineering of its internal network and affecting production and refining departments work.

According to administrative regulations and hierarchy, the duty to protect network data of government agencies and institutions from cyberattacks is assigned to the Bahrain Information and E-Government Authority.

This Authority was established in 2007 and is required to follow Government rules. It was then transferred to the Central Information Service in 2012 and to the Ministry of Interior in 2015.

It is headed by an executive chief whose name is well known to Bahrain's political circles, Mohammed Ali Al-Qaed, arm of Ahmed Atiyatollah Al Khalifa, minister of follow-up affairs at the Royal Court and one of the most prominent makers and enforcers of the internal policies of the king and his court.

Since the establishment of the E-Government Authority, which seems to work as a private business for Atiyatollah and Mohammed Al-Qaed, the head remained in his post while only those under his authority were replaced.

The decree of this body clearly states that there should be an executive vice president specializing in information and radio communications security, followed by three departments, most notably the Department of Information Security Services. However, the failure of this Authority to carry out its mission became clear after all these cyberattacks. The person holding the position of executive vice president for information and radio communications security is Ali Mohammed Al-Zayyani. His profile listed on the e-government website does not show his academic credentials.

In 2017, the Information and E-Government Authority CEO Mohammad Ali Al-Qaed stated that "more than 50% of the malicious messages and cyberattacks against the Kingdom of Bahrain come from Iran."

He said in a press statement on the sidelines of the "Manama Dialogue" that the Information Authority was able during the first quarter of 2017 to "record nearly 23 million harmful messages and 23,000 attempts to hack government systems," pointing out that these attempts are increasing year after another.

Admitting to having such an issue, something should have been done in terms of protecting government networks from cyberattacks, but what happened was the opposite. In August 2019, the Wall Street Journal published a report revealing hacks of several electronic networks, the first of which was the National Security Agency, Bahrain Alba Aluminium Company network, Office of the First Deputy Prime Minister (Crown Prince), and the Electricity and Water Authority.

The hacking game has continued until the major hack that hit one of the most important companies for Bahrain's economy, Bapco.

Although major companies affiliated with the sovereign fund "Mumtalakat" have their own technical departments, it is certain, according to a competent source, that it is not possible to appoint a director of the technical department at the most important companies in the country such as Bapco, Alba and others without the consent of Ahmed Atiyatollah, who considers the information sector to be his favorite stadium. Due to this, Atiyatollah has become a major player at the electoral tables, the distribution of voter blocs and tampering of electoral results. It's a great world of corruption upon which the e-government body is based.

A higher education student at a prestigious European university told Bahrain Mirror that he was surprised during a lecture that the lecturer mentioned, on the topic of electronic project management, the name of the Information and E-Government Authority in Bahrain as one of the most prominent examples of corruption in technology projects in the Middle East, saying: "More than half of its budget goes to repeated projects and fixes. This is clear corruption that every specialist knows."

It seems very unlikely to expect the e-government CEO Mohammed Ali Al-Qaed to be held accountable, as this may cause the first clash between the Crown Prince and the Minister of Follow-up Affairs at the Royal Court, who will defend him by all means. Meanwhile, the elected chamber of the Bahraini parliament will remain in its slumber just like the e-government.

Arabic Version