Israel’s prime minister explains how cyber efforts will move forward, and why international players should move to Israel
Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, recently paid a visit to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conversation, as related by Netanyahu at the 5th Annual International Cybersecurity Conference on Tuesday, went something as follows:
“[Schmidt] said to me, ‘Israel is the digital powerhouse of the world.’
I said, ‘Eric, you don’t think you’re exaggerating?’
He said, ‘Let me be precise: You’re #2 after the western Silicon Valley, but you’re ahead of New York, ahead of Cambridge, Mass., Cambridge, England.’”
Israel’s status as a leader in the digital arena is now widely recognized. At the International Cybersecurity Conference, which took place at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday, Netanyahu applauded Israel’s digital might, with particular attention to the strength of the country’s cybersecurity. As of last year, within a global cybersecurity market estimated to be worth between $60-80 billion, Israel managed to attract a significant $5-7 billion of that sum.
Of the thousands at the event, delegates from 45 countries attended the conference this year. Netanyahu’s message was very much directed towards this international crowd, while remaining focused on current and future efforts of his own country.
Netanyahu said, “I think each of you can have your own opportunity here. I think Israel is exciting, open … I’m glad you’re here. The numbers grow each year, investments grow each year, opportunities grow each year.
Though he acknowledged Israel’s current leadership in the sector, Netanyahu’s message was evident: Complacency is not an option when it comes to cybersecurity. This sentiment of continuous urgency served as a theme at the conference, where other speakers on Tuesday included Gili Drob-Heistein (Executive Director of Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center), Professor Joseph Klafter (Tel Aviv University), Daniel B. Shapiro (Ambassador of USA in Israel), and Dr. Eviatar Matania (Head of the International Cyber Bureau).
The need for constant change in cybersecurity stems from the ever-changing nature of the beast.
“We are in the throws of great change,” said the prime minister. “We’re moving from atoms to bits, from place to space. I don’t want to say that we’re walking in the clouds, but we sort of are. And it requires that we be at the cusp, the edge, of innovation all the time.”
Though cyber warfare seemingly occurs in the clouds, Netanyahu outlined two concrete, governmental resolutions that Israel has recently made to combat the threat: first, the creation of a national cybersecurity authority, the National Cyber Bureau, and second, the creation of IDF cyber forces “to build capacities that endure and develop.”
Modeling Beersheba after Silicon Valley
Netanyahu saw the U.S. government investing in the middle of campuses, such as Harvard and Stanford.
He said, “I thought, that’s a pretty good combination. You have government investment … and academia that … spawns business startups. That’s pretty much what we’ve decided to do in Beersheba.”
Netanyahu intends for the southern city of Beersheba to be the country’s concentrated hub of cybersecurity efforts. A government initiative, which was launched at the beginning of 2014, encourages people with ideas to move to the city. Major companies, including EMC, Lockheed Martin, and IBM, have already launched divisions there. The Israeli government’s tax breaks in the area also offer incentives to move to the cyber scene in the middle of the desert.
While Beersheba may be an attempt to replicate Silicon Valley, Netanyahu noted that certain aspects of Israel are harder to replicate, such as Israeli culture.
“[Israel] is a unique place because of the culture that is absolutely necessary here, [which] is to challenge assumptions. This is something that is deeply embedded in the culture of our people.”
This feature of Israeli culture is key in what Netanyahu described as the “fastest growing, fastest changing domain of national security in the world.”
Netanyahu also said “perpetual investment” adds to Israel’s success in the cybersecurity field.
“Our task is to take this perpetual investment and to make it into not only a vehicle for national defense, but also a vehicle for business.”
In either case, the wheels of change on these vehicles must rage on. Netanyahu made this need for momentum clear. Israeli efforts must continue to move forward, while other countries’ efforts should move to Israel.
“I’m here to tell you, if you’re not in Israel, you should be. If you are, do more.”
Cybersecurity’s on fire this year – i.e., the other reason Eric Schmidt paid Netanyahu a visit
It is hard not to count a week that passes in Israel without there being some kind of funding towards cybersecurity startups. In fact, Eric Schmidt was visiting Israel two weeks ago not only to visit Netanyahu, but also to chat with Team8’s first startup illusive networks, which raised $5 million on June 9. Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors funded Team8, a hot new cyber security startup, firm, and accelerator, to the tune of $18 million in February.