Start-ups ride a cybersecurity wave into Israel
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Start-ups ride a cybersecurity wave into Israel

Beersheba-based cyber-technology incubator hatches new technologies to keep governments, companies, and consumers safer online

Projected aerial view of the IDF's advanced technology and training facilities near Beersheba (Courtesy: Ministry of Development for the Galilee and Negev)
Projected aerial view of the IDF's advanced technology and training facilities near Beersheba (Courtesy: Ministry of Development for the Galilee and Negev)

There are two big “waves” set to hit Israeli hi-tech in the coming year, according to Gadi Tirosh, a general manager at venture capital fund Jerusalem Venture Partners. One wave will consist of new companies working in the cybersecurity space, as protecting government, enterprise, and consumers from hacking, online espionage, and cyber-terrorism becomes even more vital than in the past.

The second wave concerns the place where many of these security-oriented companies will set up shop — Beersheba, a city which will soon host many of the IDF’s advanced technology facilities. As the city grows, multinational giants, like Deutsche Telecom, Ness Technologies, EMC, and others are setting up R&D facilities in the city, drawing from the graduates of Ben Gurion University’s large body of engineering students.

It’s the perfect place, said Tirosh, for JVP to set up its new cybersecurity incubator. “As computer attacks get more sophisticated, they are more difficult to prevent,” Tirosh told the Times of Israel. “There is a big demand for advanced technology to keep cyberspace safe, and we are actively recruiting companies working in this space that have promising technologies. Beersheba, with its high-tech environment created by Ben Gurion University, the IDF’s large tech facilities, and international R&D facilities, will provide a very supportive environment for our startups. It’s a triangle that will benefit everyone involved,” Tirosh said.

Not long ago, Israel was faced with a major denial of service (DDOS) attack organized by hacker outfit Anonymous, in which hackers tried to overload Israeli computers and choke them with an excess of data. Attacks like those aren’t what Tirosh and many other cybersecurity experts are worried about these days; DDOS attacks are an annoyance, but there are strategies companies and countries can take to prevent them from causing damage; Israel itself utilized many of these techniques during the Anonymous-led #OpIsrael hack attack in April, and as a result, the attack, which was supposed to “destroy Israel’s presence on the Internet,” turned out to be a bust.

What companies and countries need to worry about is the new breed of cyberattack, which gets into the inner workings of a system and either compromises the information, destroys it, or utilizes it in a dangerous and damaging manner. “We call these advanced persistent threat (APT) attacks,” said Tirosh. “The hackers get a piece of malware onto a server using various methods, such as ‘social engineering,’ where they get users to click on a link or open a file that installs a trojan horse or virus. It sits there until activated — on ‘D-Day’ — and then it destroys servers, data, and maybe more.”

Jerusalem Venture Partners' Gadi Tirosh (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem Venture Partners’ Gadi Tirosh (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Detecting those trojans is very difficult, because they are very small and don’t really do anything until they’re activated — at which point it’s too late. But there is a way to root them out, said Tirosh. And one of the companies JVP is funding as part of its cybersecurity portfolio, called ThetaRay, has got just the solution — a technology that detects “anomalies,” very minute changes, in a system. “The malware is very small and once it inserts itself into a system it is almost impossible to detect,” said Tirosh. “One of the only ways to find it is to track it when it communicates or has other very minute impacts on the system. Sophisticated technology, such as that developed by ThetaRay, can detect these impacts, and also prevent false alarms for anomalies that are not connected to malware.”

The cybersecurity incubator is new — and unique, said Tirosh, as JVP will be operating the only incubator in the world working with early stage companies in cybersecurity and big data (at least for now). But the incubator is not JVP’s first foray into cybersecurity; a graduate of the firm’s incubators, CyberArk, is now one of the world’s largest cybersecurity companies, offering a unique method to prevent hackers from even getting close to critical systems.

The companies that emerge from the incubator will become pillars of future cyber-defense efforts, said Tirosh. “We in Israel are as vulnerable to APT attacks as anyone else, but we have a good defense system, with government and private organizations working together to cyber-defend the country,” Tirosh said. “It’s a good model, one that we know our graduates will integrate into successfully.”

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