Cooperation key to cyber-security, says ex-NSA head

Joint projects with business, academia, and government — like the CyberSpark Industry Initiative — are ‘badly needed’

General Keith Alexander speaks at Tel Aviv University's Cyber Research Center (Photo credit: Courtesy)
General Keith Alexander speaks at Tel Aviv University's Cyber Research Center (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Survival of society as we know it in the battle against cyber-criminals and terrorists requires cooperation involving industry academia and investors. That stern warning comes from no less a figure than former NSA Director Gen. (ret.) Keith Alexander — and Israelis are working on that.

It’s to that end that international security company EMC, BGN Technologies (the technology transfer company of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), and venture capital investment firm Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) announced Sunday the creation of the CyberSpark Industry Initiative, a non-profit organization that will engage in the international promotion of the cyber center, which is based at the Advanced Technologies Park (ATP) Beersheba.

The EMC/BGN/JVP announcement was timed to coincide with the beginning of Cyber-Week in Israel, where Alexander is a key participant. Dozens of events, seminars, and activities related to cyber-security will be taking place throughout the week at a major international event sponsored by Tel Aviv University’s Cyber Research Center (ICRC).

Besides Alexander, guests include Canadian Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney, Assistant. Secretary-General of the Emerging Security Challenges Division at NATO Amb. Sorin Ducaru, former US Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, Director of the Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance Cabinet Office UK James Quinault, Coordinator for Cyber Issues at the US State Department Christopher Painter, security expert Eugene Kaspersky, and many others. All will speak about their experiences in dealing with cyber-security problems.

Alexander kicked off the conference Sunday morning, emphasizing the importance of cooperation among different strands of society facing cyber-problems. “Today, human knowledge doubles every 13 months, and soon it will take just days for that to happen,” Alexander told the conference. That data is what makes the world – from a financial, social, and security point of view – go around, and if it is compromised or cannot be kept safe, the consequences for society will not be pretty, he said. “The great challenge for society is how we protect and harness data.”

Alexander, who was head of the NSA when Edward Snowden revealed that the agency had done extensive spying on Americans, resigned in 2013 as a result of those disclosures. Alexander did not discuss the spying scandal or his resignation in his presentation Sunday.

Because there are so many ways for hackers to steal data – whether via “human engineering,” convincing people to click on links that install malware, or by physically invading a structure and attaching a flash drive to a computer, or by sheer force (with denial of service attacks), a comprehensive strategy must be developed. Today, Alexander said, many of the solutions are piecemeal, targeting specific issues and failing to take into account the “big picture.” That’s why more cooperation is needed — the more heads involved in presenting different aspects of the problem, the better the solution will be.

That’s the idea behind the CyberSpark Industry Initiative, said its organizers. It’s meant to serve as a coordinating body for joint cyber industry activities bringing in industry, business, academia, government agencies, the IDF, and, of course, the public. One of the Initiative’s jobs will be to produce and promote a multi-year business plan to come up with solutions, which will then be marketed to people around the world who need protection from cyber-criminals. That marketing would help brand Israel, and especially Beersheba, as a global cyber-security center, encouraging even more joint academia-industry research projects, supporting the development of plans to recruit and develop human resources in the field, and incentives to encourage other companies, both international and Israeli, to set up shop in the region.

Roni Zehavi, high-tech entrepreneur and former pilot in Israel’s air force, will be the Initiative’s managing director. The non-profit organization’s board of directors will be comprised of representatives of the founding companies. A public board will be created, made up of key players in the Israeli economy, education, government, academia, culture, and technology.

EMC,  Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), and BGN Technologies are the first core of companies in the cyber center in Beersheba – and more are on the way, said Corporate Vice President, Growth and Innovation, EMC Centers of Excellence EMEA and the US Dr. Orna Berry: “After forging the path as pioneers in the development of Beersheba, as an international high-tech and cyber zone, it is clear to us that realizing the vision and the transition from words to deeds requires an active, high level of involvement on the part of local and international industry in the field. It is a complex and sensitive mission that integrates parties with different interests and needs that must be coordinated to ensure achievements and significant progress. Creating the CyberSpark Industry Initiative is a necessary process to implement the operational plan to promote the cyber campus in Beersheba.”

Commenting on the project, Yoav Tzruya, a partner at JVP Cyber Labs, said that “over the last year, we experienced amazing entrepreneurial and innovative momentum in the field and invested in four innovative cyber companies in Beersheba, which along with the south of Israel in general, have the vast potential to be transformed into an international center of excellence, combining large multinational companies, start-ups, academia and significant governmental commitment. In order to realize that full potential, there is a need for significant coordination between the different parties to create a joint vision and ensure the necessary infrastructure, and to coordinate efforts that will enable breakthroughs for all of the parties involved. That is why we created the organization along with our partners in the vision.”

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