Israel to spend over $13 million on cybersecurity efforts

A new government panel is spending big money to develop safer computers and networks

Cybersecurity has become a major growth industry of late, and the government is committing to shore up Israel’s cyber defenses in a big way. The government announced that it will invest NIS 50 million (more than $13 million) in the coming years to develop new, effective technologies to keep Israel’s networks safe.

The program will be administered by the National Cyber Committee, a department in the Prime Minister’s Office, along with the Science and Technology Ministry. Funding of up to NIS 2 million ($525,000) will be available for promising projects sponsored by corporations, while students doing work on cybersecurity will be eligible for scholarships of NIS 300,000 ($80,000). The program will continue for at least three years.

Researchers will be expected to develop projects that will protect the country’s sensitive websites and networks. According to statistics published by the committee, there are thousands of attempts by hackers to break into Israeli sites every week, and not a day goes by without at least a few sites being compromised. Often those attacks go unreported but some make headlines, such as when Iranian hackers stole information on thousands of credit card accounts belonging to Israelis, or when the man who created the National Cyber Committee himself — Professor Yitzchak ben-Yisrael, who heads Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security — had his website hacked.

The committee has asked developers to come up with projects that would provide specialized protection for government, bank, and defense sites, as well as those belonging to universities, courts, hospitals, and other facilities. Besides system and network protection systems, the panel in charge of approving projects will seek studies and research in areas like cyber-psychology (how users react during hacking attacks, and how to more easily identify hackers before they attack) as well as ethics (how invasive can/should the authorities be) and international relations. And, the panel will also be looking for projects that allow for easier identification of attackers, tracing of attacks, backup, and quick recovery.

The National Cyber Committee was set up several months ago and officially began operation in May. It’s the first body in Israel charged with setting national cyber policy, Ben-Yisrael told The Times of Israel in a recent interview. “This is not a government program to encourage people to install anti-virus software. That kind of thing is better done by the private sector. What we want to do is work with the private sector, to guide them on the kinds of products and services needed to ensure that our data remains safe.”

Speaking last month at the committee’s inauguration, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the group “would guide Israel into a position at the leading edge of cybersecurity. Besides the security issue itself, there is also a great economic opportunity,” as the technologies developed by the committee will be useful not only for Israelis but for customers around the world.

Dr. Evyatar Matanya, head of the Committee, said during a ceremony announcing the funding program that “the grants and scholarships we have announced are a first step to raising the issue of cybersecurity to the national consciousness and will turn Israel into one of the world leaders in this important and critical field.”

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