February 1, 2018 / 7:09 AM / 18 days ago

Emerging Gulf State cyber security powerhouse growing rapidly in size, revenue

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - A little-known cyber security company in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recruiting executives who have worked for Western intelligence services is turning over hundreds of millions of dollars a year, largely in contracts with the government, according to its chief executive.

Darkmatter was founded three years ago in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, by CEO Faisal al-Bannai, an Emirati entrepreneur known for setting up regional mobile phone retailer Axiom Telecom.

The majority of its work, 80 percent, is with the UAE government and related entities, which has included advising federal cyber security agency National Electronic Security Authority (NESA).

That has helped the company, with ambitions to globally compete in the cyber sphere with IBM and Lockheed Martin, to double its revenue each year.

“Today, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars,” Bannai told Reuters at Darkmatter’s Abu Dhabi headquarters.

A UAE government representative was not available to comment on the claims.

Darkmatter has gone on a recruiting spree since it started in late 2014, and has more than tripled its workforce to 650. It has hired executives who have worked at major international companies such as Intel Corporation and BlackBerry, but also some with backgrounds in Western military and intelligence agencies including the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

Bannai said Darkmatter is profitable and is providing the UAE government with defensive security tools, but not offensive technology.

“A massive chunk of what we do with government entities here is ‘how do we strengthen their network to be immune from attacks?’ or at least to recover from an attack,” Bannai said.

Cyber-attacks by hostile governments, militant groups, or by cyber criminals could disrupt key infrastructure such as oil and gas supplies, and desalination plants, which the UAE and other Gulf states depend on.

Traditionally low-key UAE has become more influential in its foreign policy in recent years, potentially increasing the threat of cyber-attacks.

It has intervened in the Yemen civil war, and is taking a leading role in a dispute between some Arab states and Qatar.

Darkmatter’s relationship with the UAE “is a pure commercial transaction,” Bannai said, unique in a country where nearly all major entities are state-owned or controlled.

“Definitely, they see a value in having a local partner build these capabilities,” he said.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Stephen Coates

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