Israel-US cyber-conference to tackle infrastructure threats

The annual DCOI, set to take place in Washington in April, brings together top cyber-security officials from both countries

Participants in the DCOI 2014 event, which was held in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Participants in the DCOI 2014 event, which was held in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Politics may sometimes divide Israel and the US, but the two countries have much in common when it comes to cyber-defense — and an upcoming conference featuring top Israeli and American cyber-defense figures, researchers, legislators, and government officials in Washington will, organizers hope, result in ideas and projects that will redouble efforts to protect computers and networks around the world.

The fourth annual Defensive Cyberspace Operations & Intelligence Conference & Exhibition, set to take place in Washington at the end of April, aims to “contribute to an informed public debate on cyber-net security and promoting international collaborations in the technological, intelligence and policy-making domains.”

On the Israeli side, the conference will be sponsored by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), an independent academic institute that studies key issues relating to Israel’s national security and Middle East affairs, including cyber security.

The US sponsor is the Cyber Security Forum Initiative (CSFI), a nonprofit organization that “provides cyber-warfare awareness, guidance, and security solutions through collaboration, education, volunteer work, and training to assist the US Government, US Military, Commercial Interests, and International Partners,” according to the group.

Chairing the conference will be Michael Chertoff, who headed the US Department of Homeland Security from 2005-2009. Chertoff — who now runs a security consulting firm — believes that “risk management has become the CEO’s concern,” and that corporations “need to develop comprehensive strategies to manage risk without building barriers that get in the way of carrying on their business.”

The speakers will include current Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz (since the event is after the March 17 elections, Steinitz may not be holding that job at the time of the conference); former INSS head and IDF Intelligence Director, Amos Yadlin; Richard Clarke, a senior cyber-security adviser for the White House; CSFI President Paul De Souza; and many others.

One of the biggest current concerns in the cyber-defense business is the possibility of a major hack attack against infrastructure. Stuxnet — the cyber-worm that attacked and paralyzed the Iranian nuclear program — gave a real scare to the officials responsible for electricity, water, and other critical infrastructure. In fact, infrastructure attacks will be a major topic of discussion at the conference.

Among the participants in the event will be representatives of the Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents more than 700 American electrical utilities; and the Business Round Table, which counts among its membership some of the largest banks, manufacturers, and defense contractors in the US.

Also participating will be panels of cyber-security experts from top companies in the field, as well as start-ups, and they will be given a mission — how to prevent a cyber-attack on two US West Coast oil refineries from a Stuxnet-like attack that, if successful, would basically put the US out of business for weeks until the refineries could be brought back online, by which time the world would have gone off the rails.

According to the mission, “the presumed attacker is a nation state whose goal is to employ the cyber attack to (a) weaken US response capabilities; and (b) keep the US focused on this domestic emergency while the nation state occupies a maritime area of strategic interest for US security, specifically the Western Pacific Area of Responsibility.” Cyber-defenders will have to figure out where the hackers will try to break in and then plug up the security hole before it is exploited.

For Israel and the US, the conference is a chance to get ahead of the curve, and develop the strategies that will prevent just such a scenario, said Dr. Gabi Siboni, director of the Cyber Warfare Program, INSS. “Israel is a global cyber-superpower, and top US government and business officials are very interested in what we have to say. The conference provides an exceptional business opportunity for start-ups and Israeli institutions seeking to enter the US market.

The director continued: “The decision to hold the conference in the US capital will ensure that more Israeli technologies and companies become exposed to the US market, and increase the possibilities of cooperation, especially in the areas of critical infrastructure, intelligence, and information exchange on cyber-threats.”

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