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US-Israel fund launches cybersecurity program for critical infrastructure protection

New BIRD initiative to grant $1.5 million per project for joint work on securing supply chains, airports and seaports, and enterprises

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

An illustrative photo of a cybersecurity protection concept. (Thinkhubstudio via iStock by Getty Images)
An illustrative photo of a cybersecurity protection concept. (Thinkhubstudio via iStock by Getty Images)

Israel and the US are launching a new cybersecurity program that will offer grants of up to $1.5 million for projects that build solutions to protect critical infrastructure.

The program will be led by BIRD Cyber, a joint cooperation between the Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation together with the US Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and the Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD), according to an official announcement Tuesday.

The BIRD Foundation promotes joint ventures between US and Israeli companies in various technological fields so they can create new products in tandem.

The new cybersecurity program will promote collaboration between US and Israeli companies, or between a company and a university or research institute (one from each country), on cybersecurity and emerging technologies to improve the cyber protection and resilience of critical infrastructure and economies of both countries. It will offer funding of up to $1.5 million per project, or up to 50% of research and development budgets, for joint work that leads to demonstrations and pilot implementations of the technologies.

In a call for submissions this week, the program organizers said proposed partnerships and projects should relate to technologies that offer secured architecture for protecting core operational processes, pilots for real-time risk assessment for small-to-medium sized airports or seaports, pilots for cyber resilience centers for small and medium businesses and enterprises, and advanced analytics.

The program comes on the heels of a series of cybersecurity collaboration agreements signed in March between Israel and the US, aimed at deepening and expanding ties between the two countries on the cyber front. The broad areas of cooperation included combating terrorist financing, creating an institutional vehicle to enable cyber-specific research and development, and collaborating on transportation cybersecurity.

Among these agreements was a deal between the DHS and INCD to enhance cyber cooperation on protecting their respective economies and critical infrastructure, increasing collaborative risk management of cyber threats, countering ransomware attacks, and promoting bilateral cyber R&D and partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Dr. Eitan Yudilevich, executive director of BIRD said in a statement that the organization was “pleased that the US Department of Homeland Security and the Israel National Cyber Directorate have selected the BIRD Foundation to lead the joint US-Israel cyber technologies program and are proud that we can contribute to enhancing cyber resilience in both countries.”

Critical infrastructure includes energy, water, aviation, manufacturing, and supply chain operations. Cyber threats to critical infrastructure present some of the most significant strategic risks to countries’ national security, economy, and public health and safety.

In June 2022 alone, some of the most high-profile attacks included a Russian-linked hacking group targeting Lithuania’s state railway, airports, and government ministries, a leading Israeli cybersecurity firm revealing that an Iranian-led spear-phishing operation targeted high-ranking Israeli and Israel-linked targets, hackers targeting three Iranian steel companies, forcing one to halt production, and a phishing campaign that targeted US organizations in the military, software, supply chain, healthcare, and pharmaceutical sectors through Microsoft accounts.

Some of the biggest cyber attacks in 2021 affected critical infrastructure industries.

A major study published last October found that Israel was the country most affected by ransomware since 2020.

Israel is also a cybersecurity powerhouse with companies in the sector raising a record $8.8 billion in 2021, a figure that accounts for 40% of the total funds raised by cybersecurity firms worldwide last year, according to data provided by the Israel National Cyber Directorate.

Overall cybersecurity exports from Israel were estimated at $11 billion in 2021, according to separate Israeli Export Institute data.

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