A view of Israel's 2019 Cybertech conference. Photo: Noa Amouyal.
A view of Israel's 2019 Cybertech conference. Photo: Noa Amouyal.
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Israel views global partnerships as key to thwarting cyber-security threats

“Everything today is vulnerable,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the 2019 CyberTech conference. “Every country can be subject to cyber attacks. And what they all need is a combination of cyber-defense efforts and a robust cyber-security industry.”

A major hospital digitizes all of its data, with the medical history of thousands upon thousands of patients saved on the cloud. Now say, for instance, that data is hacked.

Best-case scenario: It’s a bureaucratic nightmare for many, and advertisers get their hands on very sensitive and personal data.

Worst-case scenario: The data is tampered with, which potentially jeopardizes the treatment plan of countless patients.

At 2019’s CyberTech conference in Tel Aviv, no expert hailing from the private sector or government said the words “life or death.”

They didn’t need to.

Because when talking about the future of cyber security, these experts represent an industry ensuring that individual information related to banking, personal mobile devices, military infrastructure and medical information remains in the right hands.

“Everything today is vulnerable,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the conference. “Every country can be subject to cyber attacks. And what they all need is a combination of cyber-defense efforts and a robust cyber security industry.”

“Literally everything today can be hacked,” said Neta-Li Meiri, managing director of the 8200 Social Program, an Israel accelerator program that provides networking and mentor services to entrepreneurs looking to create cutting-edge solutions. “The future is here regarding those elements. Everything is connected, everything is smart, which means every smart system can be hacked.”

Netanyahu said that “what we’re in the midst of right now is a change.”

The talent challenge in cyber security

That shift is transitioning from the nuts and bolts of traditional security—aka, big strong men guarding doorways to guarding the virtual doorways of the cyber realm.

The problem is that there simply aren’t enough qualified people to help thwart them.

“There isn’t enough qualified talent in general—people that actually know cyber security,” said Ram Levi, founder and CEO of Konfidas, an Israeli cyber-security consulting firm.

And for Israel, which has led the way in the cyber security, there are fears of a talent shortage, especially as experts set up shop elsewhere such as in Silicon Valley.

While Meiri, whose session at the conference titled “Secrets of Unit 8200,” boasted of the alumni coming out of the prestigious Israel Defense Forces’ corps responsible for collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption, Levi warned that relying on the military’s best and brightest is not enough for this brave new world of cyber threats.

“Yes, a lot of good people are coming out of the military, but they’re knowledge pertains to the military and not the private sector in general. The military’s needs are not the same as the needs of a bank or an insurance company. The networks, challenges and the ones hacking them are different, and there are regulatory requirements in the private sector,” she cautioned. “The motivation of the perpetrator is different: The hackers who attack armies represent nation states, while hackers that go after banks are typically criminals interested in money.”

During his speech, Netanyahu noted that “we have so much growth in this area that we can’t meet the personnel costs.”

As such, the government, nonprofits and private sector are doing their part to ensure that suitable talent is recruited, both Israeli and foreign.

Netanyahu spoke of a government program of cyber interns, for example, where talent is coming in from overseas. And in Israel, the recruiting starts young.

In 2015, the government announced that it would institute official certification programs for cyber-security practitioners, where candidates will have to pass exams with a two-tier levels of difficulty: one testing basic theoretical skills and an advanced exam for experts. The certification will be issued under the Israel National Cyber Directorate, which operates under the Prime Minister’s Office.

Meiri, with her 8200 Social Program, is using the robust network of that elite unite to help inspire and train the country’s most promising entrepreneurs.

This challenge is not unique to Israel. An October 2018 study by (ISC)², the world’s largest nonprofit association of certified cyber-security professionals, revealed that the “global cyber-security workforce gap [has expanded] to nearly 3 million across North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific (APAC) and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).”

Given this global growth, this suggests that Israel doesn’t have to face this obstacle alone. As the presence of international representatives from around the world at the conference attested, they are willing and eager to work with and learn from the Jewish state.

Considering investments in Israel’s cyber-security industry surpassed the $1 billion threshold for the first time, despite whatever challenges Israel may face, the numbers don’t lie.

“This is nothing short of a cyber revolution, which Israel is a big part of,” boasted Amir Rapaport, who organized the conference which is now in its sixth year. “We’re in the right place in the right time.”

With companies from around the world represented at this year’s conference—what is considered one of the industry’s biggest B2B events of the year—the approximately 15,000 people who attended the three-day conference exemplifies that Israel offers what others need.

“You are partners. CyberTech reflects a policy. It reflects the fact that cyber security is not only here to stay, but will grow exponentially,” Netanyahu told the audience. “We have a general policy of collaboration with governments and companies.”

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