Changing the Security Landscape: The Security Middle East Conference

Changing the Security Landscape: The Security Middle East Conference

Over the course of one day, hundreds of top-level security professionals gained the chance to hear from the industry’s thought leaders, as well as network and make new connections with other sector executives at the first-ever Security Middle East Conference.

The Crowne Plaza Riyadh Palace Hotel was our host for this event, which took place on May 9th 2023. Our guest list was made up of some of the security industry’s top-level executives, those who were ready to contribute to the conversations being had around the future security landscape and the journey to get there, and who were excited to hear from our keynote speakers and panellists.

The 200+ guests included representatives from The Public Investment Fund (PIF), NEOM, Saudi Aramco, Royal Commission for Al Ula, Saudi National Bank and Saudi Air Navigation Services, and comprised C-level decision makers, security influencers and industry thought leaders. We were delighted to welcome so many high-profile and influential guests with a guest list to rival the who’s who of security.
After a brief coffee reception, as we welcomed our guests to the hotel, we were settled into the main room. Daniel Norman, Regional Director, EMEA at the Information Security Forum (ISF), took the stage to welcome everyone to this exciting event and set the scene for our audience, before launching an introduction video. This video helped set out the aims for the event and focused on the importance of the Security Middle East Conference 2023 and its role in bringing together C-level decision-makers to help shape and define the future of security in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East region.

The importance of collaboration in refineries

Norman took on the role of conference Chair, introducing each speaker and our panel members. The first keynote speaker Norman introduced was Abdulrahman Al- Fadhel, who is a former Re nery Manager for Saudi Aramco. He spoke knowledgeably to our audience about how vital it is for organisations to work with security services. In his example, he explained that should the re nery be shut for a single day, the potential costs could be significant – as high as 1.5m rial. He focused on building collaboration, particularly important during the maintenance shut-down period of refineries. He also conveyed the importance of properly running a refinery in order to save lives and establish the backbone of the Saudi Arabian economy.

Addressing the talent gap

Following Mr Al-Fadhel’s enlightening keynote it was time for our first panel discussion of the day. The topic was addressing the talent gap in Saudi Arabia’s security sector and our panellists were in good hands with Luke Bencie, Managing Director of Security Management International, LLC moderating the proceedings. He was responsible for guiding discussions with Khalid Alghamdi, Chief Executive Officer, NOMD Security Solutions; Rakan Alsharekh Chief Human Resources Officer, SAFE; and Rear Admiral Muneer Almehanna sharing their own experiences on the panel. This panel proved popular with lots of audience engagement from people obviously keen to explore how to address one of the sector’s most pressing challenges. The focus was on career paths, education and what is actually causing the talent gap – our panellists determined that a real issue was technology moving faster than people can actually keep up with. A short break for refreshments followed and gave our attendees the opportunity to interact with our sponsors, who had lined the break-out space to share their own expertise and solutions for keeping on top of security challenges. Our sponsors for this event were Genetec, Eagle Eye Networks, Obvious Technologies, Darktrace, Axis Communications and the ISF, with SAFE, Security Professionals’ Association for SIRA (SPA) and The Security Institute also supporting the event. We were also delighted to have our Education Partner on board, The University of South Florida, who supplied our attendees with accreditation in the form of a digital badge and a certificate confirming their dedication to furthering the industry.

Potential threats are everywhere

Once everyone had had their chance for a quick revitalising break it was straight on to our next keynote speaker: Steven Kenny from Axis Communications. Kenny immediately sparked intrigue with the line: “This is how a 17-year-old cost TalkTalk hundreds of millions of pounds…just because he could.”

He then underlined how vital it is to understand that a group doesn’t need to be funded or organised – or indeed even a group – to cause a massive data breach, using the global telecoms company case study as his captivating example. The onus, he hammered home to the listeners, is on the organisation entirely. We hope his stark warning – that a disgruntled nobody with half-decent computer know-how has the potential to cripple a company – is one everyone takes on board. The key learning for our audience was that any piece of technology that is part of a company’s wifi could be the company’s downfall if not adequately protected.

Sizing up smart cities

Our final session before lunch was the Smart City development panel discussion which was moderated by Professor Borhen Marzougui. He was joined on stage by Craig Ross, Senior Safety & SecurityManager, Diriyah Gate DevelopmentAuthority; Dr Mohammad Alketbi, Founder, Forceis Security; Dr Mohammed Aladalah, tech security expert; WissamAcra, Middle East Sales Director, Genetec; and Mohammad AlMajed, ProductDevelopment Director, TAHAKOM.Our expert panellists took it in turn to share their thoughts on what really is a smart city. The overwhelming take-home was that a smart city needs to be more than just futuristic and digital. Rather, a smart city must be fully connected for the benefit of residents and this includes the physical elements too.

Getting down to business

With our panellists’ words of wisdom still ringing in their ears, it was time for our guests to enjoy lunch. While it goes without saying that they enjoyed the various buffets laid on and the pleasing surroundings of the downstairs room complete with a water feature – the networking opportunities here were the star of the show. Guests hopped from table to table, making new acquaintances, greeting old ones and generally forging and building on connections for the benefit of their careers. This was a great opportunity for the audience to network in an informal way and with the benefit of the past few hours still fresh in their minds. With plenty of useful connections made, within the hour it was time to return for the final sessions of the day.

The journey of a business

Taking the spot directly after lunch was always going to be a tough gig, but Salman Alghamdi’s keynote speech was packed with information to help elevate security professionals’ careers and knowledge, ensuring all eyes were firmly on him. He spoke about the digital transformation we’re seeing within industrial security, touching on change management and stressing the importance of understanding the role of, and reading, morale in your business. Through implementing high-security protocols it is possible to essentially control the presence of your business, he told us, as he delved further into the journey of a business.

Digitisation discussions

While Daniel Norman had been ever-present throughout proceedings, introducing guests and panellists, he took to the stage as moderator for our Final discussion panel.

Resiliency in the Age of Digitisation was being debated by our panellists: Ibrahim Al-Asaker, Saudi Chapter Lead, Cloud Security Alliance; Dr Faisal Abdulaziz Alfouzan, Assistant Professor in Cybersecurity and Networks; Khalid Saad Al Medbel, General Director Information Security, Ministry of Health; and James Connolly, Director of Strategic Engagements, Darktrace – who this panel was arranged in association with.

There were plenty of discussions around Saudi Vision 2030 – where we are now and where do we need to be? There were also many stories shared of battling malware, with our panel members recalling for the audience how they’ve interacted with malware and threat actors. Norman also explained more about the simulations that are run by the ISF to help keep cyber professionals’ skills fresh.

Thanks to our sponsors, supporters and advisory board.

With the day about to draw to a close, there was just time for Norman to thank our Advisory Board who were instrumental in helping identify, develop and re ne the topics we covered at the conference. Helping to shape the content and feel of the event was Turki Al Shalhoub; Meshal Aljohani; Sami AlThowaini; Daniel Norman; AlaaDalghan; Luke Bencie; Dr MohammadAlketbi and the editor Cora Lydon.

He also extended our thanks and gratitude to our event sponsors– Genetec, Eagle Eye Networks, Obvious Technologies, Darktrace, Axis Communications and the ISF, without who the event would still be top of our wishlist. And also the support of SAFE – who provided security at the event –, SPAand The Security Institute, as well as the TheUniversity of South Florida for joining our Education Partner.

This invite-only event more than met its goal of shaping future security solutions by giving a stage to leading figures to share their knowledge and encouraging collaboration and the exchange of ideas between speakers, panellists and the audience. In fact, so successful was the event that we’re already turning our attention to the Security Middle East Conference 2024. We look forward to bringing you news of the next edition of this industry-defining event in the coming months.