For better or worse, cybersecurity a growth industry for Israel

No one is happy about the greatly increased need for cyberdefense. But some Israeli start-ups may keep hacks at bay

Professor Yitzchak Ben-Yisrael (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Professor Yitzchak Ben-Yisrael (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Israel, which is already seen as a defense expert — a reputation greatly enhanced by the performance of Iron Dome in the recent Gaza conflict — is set to advance its standing as a leader in cybersecurity. Many new technologies that have been developed for the IDF and the Israeli government are coming onto the market and are being promoted by a new generation of cybersecurity start-ups.

Years after Israel established itself as a leader in computer security — with companies like Checkpoint introducing the information technology world to concepts such as firewalls — new companies like Cyvera, Lacoon Security, and Zimperium will provide new solutions to the more advanced cyber threats challenging today’s businesses, governments, and individual computer owners.

These companies, along with several others, were on stage Monday at a special symposium on cybersecurity organized by business daily Globes. The symposium was led by Professor Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, who is the director of Israel’s space program as well as the chairman of the Prime Minister’s National Cyber Committee, established a year ago and tasked with developing policies to ensure the safety of government, corporate and private data in an era of extraordinary cyber-insecurity.

An extraordinary era it is, Ben-Yisrael told an audience at the Globes Business Forum in Herzliya. “Cyber-attacks have already gone beyond borders, with states and terror organizations using organized and sophisticated groups of hackers to attack governments, institutions, and businesses.”

Cyber-crime is so bad, Ben-Yisrael added, that “it is quickly replacing armed robbery” as the preferred method for criminals to steal large sums of money. “It’s easier for them to get money with cyber-crime than with a regular bank robbery.”

Israel’s legacy of cybersecurity has served the country well, said Ben-Yisrael. The Israeli tech ecosystem is very security-aware, and technology developed for the IDF was eventually brought to market by entrepreneurs who learned the business of data security in the army. The result: a slew of new Israeli start-ups that are helping to shape a safer cyber-tomorrow, said Ben-Yisrael.

Several of these companies participated in a roundtable discussion on cybersecurity at the conference, and discussed their specific contributions to the field. Cyvera, for example, takes a novel approach to cyber-attacks by closing off the path of attack, instead of trying to track down exploits “in the wild” and coming up with a patch, the way that most anti-virus programs do. While hundreds of new exploits emerge each year, the company says, only a handful of new exploitation techniques
 are published every few years: Choking off the paths used by those techniques — which are well known to cyberdefense firms — is the easiest, most efficient way to prevent attacks altogether.

Another company taking a preemptive approach to cybersafety is Lacoon Security, which recently raised $2.5 million in a funding round. Lacoon’s area of expertise is mobile security, which aims to counter the increasing attempts by the hackers and cyberbaddies to steal data from the smartphones and tablets that users are relying on more and more. Lacoon produces systems that protect both user devices and networks against mobile malware, by using a cloud solution that detects data that does not belong and keeps it out.

Zimperium “uses a unique behavioral analysis that integrates artificial intelligence to generate an automatic optimized set of rules based on system experience,” the company says, identifying rogue data and keeping it off Android devices before it has a chance to “settle in” and create havoc. You know a company is serious about fighting hackers, by the way, when it puts a master hacker-turned-good guy on its advisory board: Zimperium did exactly this when it hired celebrated hacker Kevin Mitnick, who served five years for cyber-crimes committed during the 1980s and 1990s.

Unfortunately for consumers and business, said Rami Efrati of the Prime Minister’s National Cyber Committee, cyber-defense is a growth area — but fortunately, Israeli tech is on the case. “The people appearing on today’s panel are the country’s leaders in the area of cyber-security, and it is the state’s responsibility to promote start-ups in this area.”

While no one is happy about the need, Israel has a great deal to contribute to cyber-safety, added Efrati. “This is such an important industry that the committee will be investing NIS 50 million (about $13 million) to help start-ups in this area to grow and thrive.”

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