Israeli entrepreneur calls for NATO-style cybersecurity alliance

Former MK Erel Margalit says Israel and its Arab neighbors already cooperate in protecting the civilian cybersphere, but must do more

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

High-tech entrepreneur and former Knesset member Erel Margalit speaking at the 2018 Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv; Jan 31, 2018 (Dror Sithakol Photography)
High-tech entrepreneur and former Knesset member Erel Margalit speaking at the 2018 Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv; Jan 31, 2018 (Dror Sithakol Photography)

Israel and its global allies, in the US, Europe and the Mediterranean region, must set up regional computer emergency response teams that will work together — a “cyber-protection alliance NATO” — to foil hacking attempts in the civilian sphere that are becoming more and more aggressive, said Erel Margalit, a former Knesset member and high-tech entrepreneur, on Wednesday.

Speaking at the 2018 Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv, Margalit, who was a member of the parliament’s task force on civilian cybersecurity, warned that citizens and civilian infrastructures are still very exposed to cyber-threats because there is not enough collaboration between government and private enterprise, and also because the cooperation between “democratic countries isn’t tight enough.”

More cooperation is needed, he said. “Together we stand and divided we are threatened.”

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance between North American and European countries in which member states undertake to defend each other if attacked by an external party.

Illustrative photo of a hacker in action (BeeBright; iStock by Getty Images)

As more and more devices are being connected to the internet and with the greater use of cloud computing, the cyber-attack surface is getting wider, cyber security experts have warned.

The World Economic Forum ranks large-scale breach of cybersecurity as one of the five most serious risks posed to the world today, and the scale of the threat is expanding: by 2021, the global cost of cybersecurity breaches will reach $6 trillion, double the total for 2015, according to reports by market research firm Cybersecurity Ventures and international consultants EY. Cyber-threats were the fourth-greatest worry for CEOs worldwide, a report by consultants PwC showed.

In October the US government warned that ongoing cyber-attacks are targeting critical national infrastructures. The report said that since at least May 2017 threat actors have targeted government entities and the energy, water, aviation, and nuclear sectors, and in some cases, have compromised networks.

“A higher level of cooperation is needed,” said Margalit, who was also the founder of Israel’s cybersecurity incubator in Beersheba and is one of the nation’s cyber pioneers. “The cyberwar can become one of the deadliest campaigns in history,” he added.

Countries need to be talking in a “more organized fashion.” It is not enough for each country to protect its own cyberspace and its own critical infrastructures from attack, because these facilities can also be targeted and infiltrated through those of unprotected neighbors or allies, he said.

Cybersecurity WhatsApp groups

In an interview with The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the conference, Margalit explained that most countries are setting up national computer emergency response teams (CERTs) to deal with cybersecurity threats against civilians, companies and critical infrastructures.

Alongside these national CERTS, however, regional CERTS should be set up as well — covering geographical regions and industry verticals like the pharmaceutical, retail industry, airline and auto industries, and critical infrastructures, airlines and the auto industries, so that everyone is informed about what is happening with their neighbors. And these regional “meta CERTS” would include a Mediterranean CERT, a European CERT and a US CERT. And they all should work closely with one another as well, he insisted.

“It is like creating a cybersecurity WhatsApp group between countries on each of the verticals,” he said, so that everyone knows who and what is challenging its allies, he said.

In the Mediterranean CERT he sees Israel working with Morocco, Tunisia, perhaps the Algerians, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinians — with whom there is already a lot of cooperation on the cybersphere, he said. He also sees Qatar and Turkey in the group. “I don’t see the Libyans,” he said, nor the Iranians.

Eleven of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard strike groups attack Israeli nuclear researchers and civilian infrastructure on a daily basis, Margalit told the conference. “While the world is trying to delay and prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, Tehran has already become a cyber power, with attacks against Israel, the US, Saudi Arabia and others.”

Cooperation between Israel and some of the countries in the region is already in place, he said. “You don’t understand how much cooperation there is,” he said, adding that it is “soft security cooperation on the civilian level between countries in the region,” but declining to elaborate further. More needs to be done, however, because it is in Israel’s strategic interest to see that its neighbors and its partners are not attacked. In the cyber-war, “borders are not relevant,” he said.

“In the Middle East it is not Arabs against Jews. It is extremists against those countries that want to protect their civilians and be practical. It is the alliance of moderates in the Middle East,” of which Israel is a part, he said.  And to keep countries safe, “it is in best interest of Israel and in the best interest of some of the key countries in the Arab league to cooperate regionally.”

“If you look at it long term, it isn’t air raids from the US or Russia or anybody that is going to keep this region safe. It is the work of cross-border cooperation on the ground physically, to allow this region to go forward in a more protected manner.”

Most Popular
read more: