IBM, Cisco next big players in Israeli cyber-security

The two multi-nationals are onboard the ‘rush’ to Beersheba, which is becoming a ‘Mecca’ for IT security technology

IBM's Steve Mills (L.) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on stage at CyberTech 2014 (Photo credit: Dan Machlis)
IBM's Steve Mills (L.) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on stage at CyberTech 2014 (Photo credit: Dan Machlis)

IBM and Cisco became the latest multinationals to announce major investments in Israel’s new cyber-security technology park in Beersheba. IBM said it would work with Ben Gurion University to establish what it called a Center of Excellence for Security and Protection of Infrastructure and Assets, where students and workers will learn cyber-security skills to ensure the safety of the digital future, the company said.

The new project “reinforces IBM’s commitment to accelerate innovation that meets the industry’s most pressing long term business requirements,” said Steve Mills, senior vice present and group executive, IBM Software & Systems. Speaking at the recent CyberTech 2014 event in Tel Aviv, Mills said that “our ongoing investments and rich history of patent leadership is helping our clients secure and protect their infrastructure and data in today’s new era of Big Data and Cloud Computing. Our partnership with Ben-Gurion University will help extend innovation not only in Israel but around the world.”

In recent years, IBM has put a lot of effort into Big Data and analytics; for example, its Haifa R&D center has a group dedicated to developing methods to mine large caches of unstructured data, using techniques like disambiguation technologies to find information and make sense of it. Some of that technology, said IBM Europe executive Gabi Tal, was used by IBM to program Watson, the intelligent robot that several years ago beat all human comers on the US quiz show Jeopardy. “Watson was built to show the capabilities for artificial intelligence and using and understanding natural language, and the Watson Lab, where much of the technology for the supercomputer was developed, is located in Haifa,” said Tal.

But where there’s Big Data, there are big risks, with big-time hackers seeking to steal information or wreck systems. So it’s natural that IBM would embrace cyber-security, and with Israel – especially Beersheba – becoming the world’s cyber-security locus, it’s natural that the company would join other multinationals, like EMC, Ness Technologies, Lockheed-Martin, and Deutsche Telekom, that have already announced they will set up cyber R&D facilities in cooperation with Ben Gurion.

The joint venture will be housed at the BGU Alon Building for Hi-Tech, enabling IBM and university researchers to team and build on the developing ecosystem in the region, IBM said. Working collaboratively with private and public organizations, “scientists and academics will collaborate to better understand how to secure and protect critical infrastructure and data. For example, as the Internet of Things becomes more pervasive, it is increasingly important to address the security of devices and machines that connect to the Internet, in addition to traditional digital assets,” the company added.

IBM has been concerned about cyber-security for a long time – and has been impressed enough with Israeli cyber-security capabilities to spend nearly a billion dollars on Trusteer. Established in 2006, Trusteer is one of the largest security firms working in the online banking space; among its customers are institutions like Bank of America, Société Générale, INGDirect, HSBC, NatWest, The Royal Bank of Scotland, and many more. IBM bought Trusteer last August, making the company IBM’s 12th Israeli acquisition.

Commenting on the acquisition, an IBM spokesperson said that “cyber-criminals are becoming increasingly efficient in creating and deploying attacks to bypass existing security controls. Trusteer software can identify security threats that can be missed by traditional security software. For example, to help ensure that banking customers can safely transfer money on a mobile device, Trusteer software performs detection of malware that can infect a smartphone, enabling the bank to take steps to prevent fraudulent behavior and account takeover before the transaction occurs.”

Not to be outdone, Cisco, another large multinational with a major presence in Israel, last week announced that it, too, was making a major investment in a cyber-security R&D center in Beersheba. Cisco will invest in a $120 million fund sponsored by Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), one of Israel’s largest venture capital firms, and the first to establish a VC fund specifically geared towards cyber-security. Gadi Tirosh, a General Manager at JVP, said that the lab was unique in that it was the only one in the world (so far) to concentrate on developing early-stage cyber-security companies.

“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,” said Tirosh. JVP has been working in the cyber-security space for years, and has funded numerous start-ups that went on to become successful in the field, such as CyberArk, Navajo (acquired by SalesForce), Magnifire (acquired by F5 Networks), ThetaRay and NativeFlow.

Now, the fund will get a significant boost, with cash and direction from Cisco. Bryan Palma, Senior Vice President of Security Services at Cisco, said that “Israel is very important to Cisco. Cisco CEO John Chambers is personally committed to making Israel the first digital country. We are working closely with the government and we are very excited about the work we are doing across education and health and cyber, specifically in the cyber area which is the area that I am responsible for.

“There are a couple of important things we are doing here in Israel,” Palma said. “The first one is we are hiring security consultants to be part of our team because we know there is great talent. Second we are working with the government and startups to create a cyber-lab that will help advance the profession of cyber security.

“The final one really is our strategic investment that we have made with JVP,” Palma added. “We think it is important to continue to invest here in Israel and we will continue to do that in cyber and really to make Israel become the first digital nation.”

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