More than a billion malicious attempts against government networks blocked in Oman last year
July 28, 2020 | 4:05 PM
by Times News Service
The telecommunication sector in the Sultanate currently has 16 telecom service providers in three categories. Photo: Illustrative file image

Muscat: Providing security to the cyberspace in Oman, Ministry of Technology and Communications (MTC) discovered and resolved 332 security incidents in 2019 and blocked more than a billion malicious attempts against government networks, according to the MTC's recently released annual report for the year of 2019.

The ministry in cooperation with other government entities were also able to discover 41,735 vulnerabilities, analyse and inspect 13,896 IP addresses, besides, offering 91 security consulting services, completed 135 security assessments and integrating 29 government web portals into the portal protection service.

Besides during the year, Oman CERT discovered and handled 483,794 real attempted service attacks, (152,480 web attacks, 152 malware attacks, 89,505 mobile attacks and 2,099,498 phishing attacks). The National Digital Forensic Lab handled 162 digital forensics cases with 813 evidence devices including computers, mobile, phones, external hard disk and USBs resulted from cyber-crime cases in Oman.

National CERT also completed the national drill for cybersecurity with 73 participated government entities and infrastructure and critical sectors of Banking, Utilities, Transport & logistics, and oil & gas sector. In addition to completing 8 internal awareness sessions and 13 sessions for external organisations with the participation of 577 government employees.

The annual report also includes the major projects and campaigns achieved within Digital Oman Strategy and eGovernment (e.oman).

The National IT Training & Awareness (NITTA) contains all training programmes that cover various community segments, including: the specialised IT training "SITT" in which 658 citizens trained in several training programmes, such as Microsoft solutions, Cybersecurity, Cisco Solutions, Internet of Things (IoT), and systems administration, in addition to hands-on training in coordination with some government and private entities.

The Ministry has also completed several training programmes and workshops targeting kids and students and covered 180 participants trained in new technologies. As part of the e-lifestyle development training programme, the ministry trained 20 people with disabilities in computer skills and conducted digital citizenship in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, in addition to organizing "Hirfati" Competition in cooperation with Oman Oil Marketing Company and Public Authority for Craft Industries (PACI).

In eGovernment, the ministry has worked on 14 digital transformation projects in 2019, 3 of which are in the consulting phase, 2 projects in the tendering phase, 3 projects in the proposals evaluation phase and 2 projects are in the contracting phase, the remaining 4 projects are in execution.

The ministry also offered 66 consulting services related to digital transformation projects in the government sector including general consultations, trade consultations, and technical consultations. In the digital transformation project management office, the offices worked on preparing 40 project managers from several government entities.

The government entities have also achieved a growth in the number of electronic services offered within the digital transformation program, as 195 eServices have been launched in 2019. In the area of utilising the emerging technologies, the ministry along with Ministry of Health launched the actual implementation phase of using artificial intelligence (AI) in breast cancer diagnosis in some hospitals in the Sultanate.

As the information technology industry is considered a major part of Oman's digital strategy, the ministry continues to support all established centres and initiatives that support this industry with related projects and products. On top of these centers is Sas for Entrepreneurship, which offered 75 consulting services for individuals and start-ups, and incubated 76 Omani companies that contributed in generating 520 job opportunities. These companies, in turn, have signed contracts of a value of more than OMR7.32 million since the establishment of the Sas centre in 2013.

While Sas for mobile applications development offered 389 training opportunities in 2019 distributed as follows: 11 on job training, 88 intensive mobile applications development, and 290 short courses.

At the same time, Sas Virtual Reality offered 76 training opportunities in the area of virtual reality, design, and programming offered; in addition to 9 consultations for individuals and companies and participated in establishing 8 Omani projects in virtual and augmented reality.

Within the support of the free and open source software initiative (FOSS) that was launched in 2010, the ministry offered training for 238 citizens in 2019 and a total of 2000 trainees since 2010.

Last year also witnessed organizations of several key events in FOSS filed, such as Oman summer of code, the fourth edition of free and open source conference in cooperation with Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), and 21 awareness sessions.

MTC training programs have also covered children and students through the training and awareness programs, and “Shurkum” was one of the initiatives toward protecting children in the cyberspace, in addition to having 3 awareness sessions at schools and registering 112 students within the children cybersecurity ambassadors Program. The ministry has also prepared the national strategic framework for child online protection and the related as-is analysis with its action plan.

The Ministry of Technology and Communications represented by governance and compliance division provides consultancies services for the government entities on the best procedures in the IT sector. The division also develops and publishes a number of instruments including policies, standards, frameworks, and guidelines to be followed by government entities. In this area, the ministry conducted 12 awareness sessions for 300 employees from public and private sector and published 6 different standards, guidelines and frameworks to support e.oman strategy, including:

• Information Security Management Policy

• Information Security Management Framework

• Project Management Framework

• IT Service Continuity Management Framework

• G-Cloud Standards

• IT Services Standards

Within the compliance area, the ministry has commenced the "private accreditation" programme focusing on IT service provider assessment, in addition to launching the trial edition of the "Government compliance" program focusing on government entities' compliance to MTC standards and policies. MTC has also completed the self-assessment for government entities to measure compliance with MTC standards and policies in preparation for the on-site audit, which was also completed for five government organizations so far.

National infrastructure is the foundation of the eGovernment and the digital transformation in all sectors, MTC has many achievements in this area in 2019 including data hosting for 40 government entities in the National Data Centre, hosting MTC infrastructure and systems as a practical solution to provide disaster recovery and business continuity.

The eTendering system that was established by MTC in coordination with the Tender Board with 69 registered government entities and 9,004 companies, and 6,067 tenders floated through the system until December 2019.

Within the ministry’s efforts to achieve credibility and confidentiality for electronic transactions, MTC was able to integrate 12 new government entities/systems using electronic authentication through the National Digital Certification Center. The electronic certification by national ID card was used in 9,700,409 eGovernment transactions in 2019, in addition to 3,564,614 eGovernment transactions completed by mobile PKI enabled SIM cards.

To achieve secure communications between government entities and enhance electronic services, 1254 government websites for 77 government entities were connected using Oman Government Network. 64 of these entities were connected using broadband connection, which was launched in October 2019; aiming to achieve future eGovernment requirements.

In another context, G-Cloud currently hosts 36 government entities, providing a unified infrastructure for government platforms, applications and services, and achieving an increase in productivity and improved services while reducing the related IT costs.

To provide awareness about e.oman projects and initiatives, the information and awareness division runs continuous awareness, marketing, and media campaigns, in addition to the specialized ICT exhibitions and conferences. In this division, 9 internal events, 45 external events, 25 workshops, 27 training programs, and sponsored 13 events were organised.

In coordination with the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), the ministry conducted a survey on "Measuring access and ICT usage for individuals and households for 2019". The survey results were generally positive as 96% of households have a computer device in 2019 comparing to 88% in 2016, internet access in the household reached 95% comparing to 86% in 2016. Individuals using the internet reached 93% compared to 77% in 2016. More details about the survey results can be found on the ministry website.

The information and awareness department of MTC ran three campaigns in 2019, the first was "Information security campaign" and included three aspects: Child protection in the cyberspace, cyber blackmailing, financial crime, dark web). The second campaign was themed "Digital Certification" and focused on the national digital certification center and its main service "TAM". The third campaign was about "Donation portal for charitable organizations" which took place during the holy month of Ramadan and focused on online donations through

The telecom sector contributes to the national income and economic growth through increasing the government and private services' productivity, in addition to its contribution to building Oman digital society and the eGovernment.

The main achievements in the area of telecom policies and legislations in 2019 are the completion of the approvals needed for the "Information and Communication Law" after including all the changes related to the ministry legal aspects, revising the Arab Space Cooperation Group Charter and the Council of Ministers approved it. The procedures of issuing the license for local company alliance in cooperation with a strategic partner (Oman Future Telecommunications), License was completed and to be issued during 2020. The third mobile service operator license was also completed, and a proposition was approved to reduce several service charges in this area.

The telecommunication sector in the Sultanate currently has 16 telecom service providers in three categories as follows: The first category (Omantel, Ooredoo, Awasr, Telecom Oman 'TEO', Arab International Connect, Oman Broadband Company, Almadakhel Investment Company).

The second category (Renna Mobile, Friendi Mobile, Zajel Communications, Awasr, Albahlani Communication).

The third category (Azyan Telecom, Rignet, MHD telecom, MHD Sat Services, Kuthban Middle East).

Concerning the number of telecom towers distributed across Oman, the telecom sector had a tangible increase in the number of towers built by the licensed telecom companies, which support all service categories. The number of towers in 2019 reached 14167: 4498 for 2G, 5399 for 3G and 4270 for 4G.

To provide telecom service coverage in the rural areas, the TRA introduced the "Universal Service" with the licensed telecom companies where the operators provide the services to the rural areas against offering them facilitation and exemptions in return.

This initiative was implemented throughout two phases between 2018-2019 and covered 350 villages. The next stage will focus on upgrading the coverage to include 3G and 4G networks.

When analysing the service coverage performance indicators, there was a tangible increase of (53%) in broadband subscriptions for housings and establishments in Muscat Governorate, compared to a steep decrease in other directorates. This might be due to the high population in Muscat and the increased commercial activities, in addition to the companies' interest in developing their electronic services over the internet.

There was a rapid increase in the number of housings’ subscribers in the fixed broadband services, with a much fewer number in establishments’ subscribers. On the other hand, mobile broadband subscribers achieved 12% growth between 2018 and 2019. The statistics show that 99% of population is covered with mobile broadband 3G/4G network with 10% growth.

There was a decrease in the traditional postal services in 2019, specifically in the registered main indicator (International/Outgoing) hitting 76% in decline. This can be considered as a normal result as many people have moved from using the traditional mail system into electronic mailing services which are also considered another type of communication service, in addition to the electronic billing that is widely available in many mobile applications.

At the same time, there was an increase in the postal packages, specifically the local one, reaching 121% growth. This is due to the increased eCommerce transactions locally and the increased customer confidence in the postal service offering and promotions.

There was also an acceptable growth in the express postal services in 2019, specifically in the local express services and the incoming international services, reaching 24% growth, and this is again justified by the increased eCommerce activities.

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