What can stop a cyber attack? Top Israeli VCs weigh in
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Cyber attack written newspaper. Photo Credit: arda savasciogullari / Shutterstock

In a quest to tell apart the hacks from the stars, Geektime interviewed Israel’s top venture capital internet security investors to understand which current technologies can actually protect us from cyber attacks

Cyber security has arguably been the hottest topic in tech news in the past several months. From the Sony hack attack, to the expected security concerns springing from Internet of Things products and services, to proposed legislation for increased British Internet surveillance, there is no shortage of concern about cyber threats – as well as cyber security startups poised to solve this ongoing problem.

Covering tech news from Israel, which is the second largest producer of cyber exports outside of the United States and a long-time expert in defense technologies, hardly a month goes by (January having been particularly impressive) without an Israeli cyber firm getting funded or acquired, or announcing an IPO.

Still, for the average reader it can be understandably difficult (and boring) to sift through the jargon of successful companies that develop “SaaS based data protection solution[s] for SaaS enterprise software,” or provide “enterprise level solutions for privileged account protection.”

So, to help more people understand what actually differentiates cutting edge cyber solutions from complex hype, we talked to the leading partners of Israeli venture capital firms that invest in Internet security startups. We figured they would be uniquely positioned to understand the emerging landscape of this technology, and could best explain which solutions on the market will actually protect us.

“The reality is that it’s not easy to develop real, detective IT security.”

Arik Kleinstein, co-founder of Glilot Capital Partners, tells Geektime that four years ago, they were the first venture capital firm in Israel to make investing in cyber security a top priority. He explains this move by saying, “Venture capitalists naturally like to go where there are huge problems, because there are huge opportunities.”

Though Kleinstein believes there’s a good number of executives in Israel from the IT sector, including the army, the problem lies more on the technology side. “The reality is that it’s not easy to develop real, detective IT security,” he asserts.

It is still extremely difficult to create Internet security solutions that both detect threats and alleviate them in a timely manner. Past security firms were creating solutions that were too narrow in scope and technically cumbersome for companies to operate well. Many detection systems also create false positives, which make it difficult for companies to decide when an identified threat is real.

When Kleinstein chooses a cyber firm to invest in, he is “looking for a solution that does not just provide a feature or detection, but also helps [companies] deal with and alleviate attacks.” A truly great solution can identify threats, alleviate these attacks in a timely manner, have as many parts of this process automated as possible, and is easy enough to use that the company “doesn’t need to hire a team of experts to deploy the product.”

Can cyber security firms prevent attacks, such as the Sony hack?

A trailer of Sony Film's 'The Interview,' whose release date was postponed because of potential terrorist attack. Photo Credit: YouTube

A trailer of Sony’s ‘The Interview,’ whose release date was postponed because of potential terrorist attack. Photo Credit: YouTube

Most of the cyber security experts I spoke to believed that the Sony attack was unavoidable. First, they claimed that Sony had excellent security systems, and more importantly, if a group is motivated enough to hack you, plotting away years of their life to ruin you, they will find a way.

Similarly, Kleinstein likens cyber security to an age-old game of cat and mouse: “The better the attackers become, the better the defenders must become. It’s not going to end.”

Ofer Schreiber, a partner at YL Ventures – another major Israeli investor in cyber security – cautiously responds, “It is still too early to jump to conclusions regarding the Sony breach, but we feel that the main lesson is clear – you can’t prevent a targeted attack (APT). Hackers are always one step ahead in the game, and this is probably the way it’s going to stay.”

But a few Israeli investors and startups dare to dream that cyber defense can not only detect and alleviate attacks, but also prevent the breaches from occurring altogether.

Yoav Tzruya, a partner at Jerusalem Venture Partners – one of Israel’s largest and longstanding venture capital firms with a focus on cyber security – tells Geektime that several of their portfolio companies have preventative solutions. He even suggests that one of their companies, CyActive, could have helped prevent the Sony attack. It predicts and prevents future malware by analyzing past attacks. For example, it can see if an attack that occurred at another company could be slightly varied to breach your system, and prevents it before the attack could come through. In the case of Sony, Tzruya asserts that the Sony attack was a variant of several other attacks, and that CyActive could have spotted it.

What if the door to your house were located in a different place every time you entered it?

shutterstock_96445247

Photo Credit: RTimages / Shutterstock

The most interesting solution came from MorphiSec (formerly called Titanium Core), which won JVP’s first ever cyber security competition last year, garnering $1 million.

First, Tzruya explains any cyber attacker’s common advantage: their understanding of the target’s system. “When you think about cyber attacks, the attacker has an advantage that they know the target system very well. They can train as much as they want to perfect their solution, and can therefore target a well-researched victim. The system has certain characteristics, and they can rely on that knowledge when they build their attack.”

“The question is,” he boldly poses, “what if we could take away that knowledge? What if everything about that system would look differently?” If you could make your system continuously appear different to the attacker, “then you can’t train your attacking method against a relatively known defensive solution.”

MorphiSec has developed a multi-defense solution that every time you look at a cyber system, its outside structure appears different. Though Tzruya obviously can’t explain the in-depth technology behind this and give away MorphiSec’s “secret sauce,” he can explain the technology in metaphorical terms.

“Imagine you have a lock on your door, but every time you try to break in, the door is in a different part of the house, and the lock has changed, so if you’re trying to penetrate the house or steal the key, you won’t know if the door will be here or there, or what is the type of lock. This makes it difficult for the attacker and because every house looks differently, you can’t have a master key. If we do that, we make things very difficult for the attacker. We’re very excited about that.”

Though this technology is still quite new, and therefore hasn’t been tested out on many clients yet, if it works, it could be a total game changer.

Which current cyber security solutions can protect IoT devices?

Photo Credit: Scott Bedford / Shutterstock

Photo Credit: Scott Bedford / Shutterstock

Not surprisingly, very few tested solutions, including the recently funded Israeli company COLU and Glilot-funded CyberX, currently exist that address security issues pertaining to IoT devices and machines since IoT is such a new market. One can expect more of these solutions to pop up this year, as has been heavily discussed since CES in January.

YL Ventures partner Ofer Schreiber believes that authentication will be a key need to address in the IoT market: “Being able to perform authentication with connected devices in a private, secure manner will be a challenge. In B2B-related scenarios, such as industrial and manufacturing worlds, security issues are taken very seriously, as the potential damage of a cyber attack can be catastrophic.”

He posits that while authentication will be important for consumers of IoT devices, it won’t be as critical as it will be for enterprise users. However, easy, secure authentication methods will be crucial in increasing consumers’ adoption of IoT appliances. “In B2C-related scenarios, which we feel comprise a smaller segment of the IoT world, authentication must be accompanied with seamless user experience. A seamless, almost transparent, authentication mechanism will be key to increase adoption of IoT technologies in the consumer world.”

This need has proven difficult to address so far. Apple has been criticized for its fingerprint ID technology, which can be easily hacked, and facial recognition also has its problems. The most secure identification methods at this point include vein recognition or body motion analysis, which as one can imagine, are almost impossible to implement on a smartphone.

Still, the need is there, and it will be very interesting to see which cyber security startups will rise to this growing challenge.

A list of promising Israeli cyber security startups

For those that want to learn more about some of Israel’s most cutting edge cyber security firms, here is a brief list, as recommended by the experts interviewed in this article:

Automated attack response solutions

LightCyber (Glilot-funded): It automates the detection and remediation of attacks and reduces the amount of time an attack lasts.

Hexadite (YL Ventures-funded): It also fully automates incident response solutions: Maybe you can be the judge of which of these two companies provides a better product.

Prevention

MorphiSec (JVP-funded): A multi-tiered defense system that prevents companies from getting attacked by changing the appearance of the system to attackers.

CyActive (JVP-funded): It predicts and prevents future malware. For example, it can see if an attack that occurred at another company could be slightly varied to breach your system, and prevents it before the attack could come through.

IoT and cloud security

CyberX (Glilot-funded): It protects industrial internet companies, such as in energy, agriculture, and electricity, and intelligent devices from cyber threats. It collects data from all networks to backend servers, which then analyze where potential threats could be coming from and how to alleviate them.

Seculert (YL Ventures-funded): It is a cloud-based solution that provides protection from advanced persistent threat (APT) attacks, such as the Sony hack, and malware.

FireLayers (YL Ventures-funded): It is a cloud application security gateway that ensures that both identification and data retrieval processes in the cloud are safe and secure.

Featured Image Credit: arda savasciogullari / Shutterstock

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Laura Rosbrow-Telem

About Laura Rosbrow-Telem


I am a social entrepreneurship enthusiast: This is what happens when a former social worker becomes a tech journalist. I mostly write about startups, technology, peace and justice issues, cultural topics, and personal stuff. Before Geektime, I was an editor at the Jerusalem Post and Mic.

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