On Monday, January 27, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stage as the opening keynote speaker at the CyberTech 2014 conference in Tel Aviv, Israel. However, the words that he said and the conference which he lead, offered a vital message to the public and private sectors in the USA and around the world. Federal, state and local governments need to pay attention to the remarkable accomplishments unfolding on the other side of the world.
The atmosphere in the packed auditorium was electric. After a standing ovation with an extended applause, the Prime Minister began:
“I just returned from addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. I want to begin by sharing the ideas discussed with global economic and political leaders….
The world that we’re entering now, the world that we are in and is about to develop around us, the world of the Internet, the world of interconnectivity, offers great hopes and great dangers….
And, we have great online blessings, along with curses that must be addressed as we enter a new phase in the Internet of things…."
The audience was packed with an unusual mix of older government technology and business leaders from over 30 countries, 20-something local hackers and tech start-up CEOs - groups that rarely attend such events together.
The Prime Minister went on to describe five factors that that through necessity have both required and enabled Israel to transform into a science and technology powerhouse with the influence many times greater than normally expected for a country of their size:
1) Unique security arrangement - 3 years of service for most teens and a constant flow of new talented, trained professionals with experience.
2) Extraordinary research universities focused on solutions to pressing problems.
3) Very small space creating a hub of competition and cooperation.
4) A special culture where fathers teach sons the Bible; “People of the Book” engrained in values.
5) No choice – must be good (or the best) in order to survive.
While this list may seem like hyperbole to some, the results are hard to argue against. Top technology companies from all over the world have set up (or are setting up) research operations in Israel, with large new investments coming from the likes of AT&T, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Cisco, Google, Microsoft and more.
What are the Israel’s innovative plans moving forward? The Prime Minister’s Office, the Beersheba Municipality and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev announced the establishment of the “CyberSpark” national cyber center in Beersheba. The complex will be unique in that it will bring together large multinationals, investors, start-ups, academic research, and even a high school, all dedicated to developing cybersecurity solutions.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Beersheba will not only be the cyber capital of Israel but one of the most important places in the cybersecurity field in the world.” The government will offer new tax incentives and even pay 40% of the salaries of new employees hired in the complex.
Seeing is believing
There have been several stories released over the past few years which outlined Israel’s entrepreneurial journey towards innovation, but no article can compare to seeing these people and their security products in person. Last year, TechRepublic reported that Israel is rewriting the future of cybersecurity and creating the next Silicon Valley.
Two years ago, the BBC reported that Israel was leading the world in cyber-readiness. And the trend is accelerating.
At a time when security and technology teams around the world are frankly struggling to keep their heads above water and their organizations out of the newspapers, the Israel story on cybersecurity offers a refreshing change in the conversation.
The buzz in the air, the fire in the eyes of young entrepreneurs in the demonstration pavilion and the plethora of venture capitalists standing in line next to you to get a cappuccino, all point to the same fact: Israel is truly a start-up nation. Countries like South Korea are sending their aspiring entrepreneurs to Israel for 6-month stints to build relationships while learning from the best. And cybersecurity is the hottest topic among global entrepreneurs right now.
Background on CyberTech 2014 in Tel Aviv
Delegations from the US Department of Homeland Security and the White House participated in the event, along with similar delegations from over 30 countries. One report by CyberTech 2014 organizers claimed that over 5000 people were registered, although I suspect that fewer people actually attended.
The agenda was packed with technology leaders from around the world, along with panels from a mix of new innovative start-ups and global public and private sector technology executives.
Several states were invited by the Israeli government to send delegations and participate, including Maryland and Michigan. Our Michigan delegation included private sector companies who are looking to create new cyber business partnerships locally, with leaders from AT&T, Deloitte, Plante Moran and ChoiceTel. States can benefit by attracting new cyber companies from Israel to open offices inside their state or to partner with existing technology companies to create new economic and business opportunities.
Pictured above - Michigan delegation with CyberTech 2014 conference chair Mr. Rami Efrati. From left to right: Diane Smith - ChoiceTel, Michigan CIO David Behen, Rami Efrati - head of civilian cybersecurity for Israel, Dan Lohrmann - Michigan CSO, Raj Patel - Plante Moran and Mark Ford - Deloitte.
But the most memorable parts of CyberTech 2014 were the multiple visits to the start-up pavilion, which included new cybersecurity companies that are challenging the status quo. Here are a few examples of startup-up companies that we were impressed by:
Seculert – Advanced threat protection with no hardware or software. “Seculert provides an integrated platform that analyzes malware communications, traffic logs, and suspicious files to identify known and unknown advanced threats.
Aorato – Protects Active Directory (AD) from advanced attacks. I asked the CEO Idan Plotnik what the company name meant, and he said, “Invisibility” in Greek.
SQream Technologies - Big data benefits which are faster and cheaper. “SQream Technologies provides you with state of the art software which combines modern GPU technology (Graphic Processing Units) with the best practices in today's Big Data platforms, providing up to 100x faster insights from data.”
Personal reflection and new inspiration
Visiting Israel for the first time was a wonderful experience overall. My wife and I were able to travel around the country on vacation for six days before the conference and see places that we have been reading about in the Bible since we were children. From the Dead Sea to Jerusalem to Bethlehem to the Sea of Galilee to Mount Hermon in the North, history came alive for us. If you can, I urge you to see Israel for yourself.
At the same time, Middle East military conflicts were always in the back of our minds as well. The recent fighting that occurred near every border, from Egypt in the South to Syria in the North, were discussed as part of many personal and professional conversations. The ongoing Palestinian struggles with Israel are very evident as you cross from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
As Americans, we constantly hear - the Middle East is a dangerous place. Some friends even urged us not to go. But we are very glad we did. Our delegation felt very safe in all of our travels. In fact, it was the expertise, determination and resolve of the Israeli people that inspired me the most during my visit.
In summary, Israel has taken their security problems and turned them into global online opportunities. And this spirit was also on display at CyberTech 2014. Cybersecurity is clearly more than a hot tech buzz word in Israel. They have created an incubator for cyber innovation and new ideas to help the world fight online crime, protect critical infrastructures and solve other difficult cyber problems.
And that is why I urge technology and cybersecurity professionals as well as political and business leaders and US high-tech companies: Take a look at Israel for new cybersecurity ideas, innovation, partnerships and inspiration.