Get the latest market trends in your inbox

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with the Axios Markets newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

An increase in cyberattacks across the Persian Gulf has underscored the region's rising geopolitical tensions and cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

The big picture: Government agencies, critical infrastructure and flagship state-owned firms are the prime targets for these cyberattacks, many of which have been linked to Iran or its proxies. While Iran has long threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz during a military conflict, its asymmetric cyber warfare capabilities have become a key means to destabilize competitors and adversaries.

Driving the news: Hackers targeted Bahrain’s National Security Agency, Interior Ministry, and first deputy prime minister’s office on Aug. 5, according to the Wall Street Journal. American intelligence suggested Iranian involvement in the cyberattacks.

  • This incident closely follows a July 25 cyberattack on the country’s Electricity and Water Authority and another suspected, but unconfirmed, attack on Aluminum Bahrain, one of the world's largest aluminum producers.

Background: These attacks have been increasing throughout the region.

  • Bahrain’s Information and eGovernment Authority claims to have successfully interrupted over 6 million attacks and 830,000 malicious emails in the first 5 months of 2019.
  • The United Arab Emirates has witnessed a growing number of cyberattacks on its oil and gas sector. Of 113 cyberattacks reported in the first 5 months of 2019, 7 were categorized as critically harmful and 11 as inflicting medium damage.
  • On Aug. 7, the U.S. government warned about GPS interference and bridge-to-bridge communications spoofing, likely connected to the Iranian military's efforts to mislead and harass vessels in Gulf waterways and other key maritime chokepoints.

The impact: Heightened concerns around data and digital infrastructure security pose commercial and reputational risks, especially as Gulf Arab countries seek to develop tech-driven knowledge economies.

  • Bahrain aims to be a regional fintech hub. It's home to the Middle East office of Amazon Web Services and has passed legislation permitting foreign countries and firms to host external data in various national jurisdictions.
  • The United Arab Emirates is aggressively digitizing economic activities as part of its AI strategy. Emirate-level governments, especially in Dubai, strongly support digital innovation agendas and the incorporation of advanced technologies.
  • Plans for Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion Neom project reveal intentions to build a highly automated, futuristic city complete with flying taxis and robots.

What to watch: Bahraini officials and their Gulf Arab counterparts will likely demonstrate cautious restraint in their rhetoric to avoid an escalation of tensions with Iran. Behind the scenes, however, government and private-sector actors will be working furiously to identify and resolve their cybersecurity risks.

Robert Mogielnicki is a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

Go deeper

51 mins ago - Health

CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.

2 hours ago - World

Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say

Qatar's prime minister (R) attends the 2019 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime marijuana legalization advocate and co-sponsor of the bill. Photo: Pete Marovich For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The House on Friday voted 228-164 in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, marking the first time a congressional chamber has voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Why it matters: The Washington Post describes the bill as a "landmark retreat in the nation’s decades-long war on drugs," which has disproportionately affected people of color.