Volkswagen forms joint venture with new Israeli automotive cyber security startup CyMotive Technologies, led by ex-Shabak head Yuval Diskin
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Yuval Diskin Photo Credit: Curtesy CyMotive

How many startups can say that they were founded by the ex-head of the Shin Bet?

Anyone familiar with the Israeli tech scene knows that it is heavily dominated by veterans of the IDF’s technology units, with 8200 (as one of the largest units in the military) producing the vast majority of them. More than one cyber security firm can claim a former commander of the elite tech core.

But how many can say that they were founded by the ex-head of the Shabak (the Israeli Security Services – Shin Bet)?

In an announcement yesterday, Volkswagen announced that they have signed a deal for a joint venture with the newly founded CyMotive Technologies that will see them work together to develop security solutions for connected and autonomous vehicles.

The Herzliya-based CyMotive is being headed up by former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin who will serve as the chairman. His co-founders are ex-Shabak personalities Tsafrir Kats, who led the Shin Bet’s Technology Division, and Dr. Tamir Bechor who was in charge computing and information at the Shabak.

Since leaving service in 2011, Diskin has consulted on cyber security issues in the commercial market. He tells Geektime that his team has worked with the VW group over the past four and a half years, building a relationship with them that led to the new venture.

Diskin’s team is taking on one of the biggest security hurdles of the coming era. As companies like Tesla and Google near closer to releasing their first autonomous cars onto the road, there are many serious concerns about how these vehicles will be secured from hackers.

It is one thing if hackers attack your website with a DDoS and keep it from loading. Disabling your breaks on the highway is another problem altogether.

“I think that the risk has been demonstrated in conferences and universities, that people with enough knowledge can take control of the car remotely,” Diskin tells Geektime, discussing the threat against the new generation of vehicles. “If you think about the future where autonomous cars will be on the road, attackers like a state or criminal group can cause accidents and will be a very significant threat. The challenge is very big here if you don’t have enough solutions to protect them.”

Growth of the connected car security sector

Google's self-driving car.

Google’s self-driving car. Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr

“Five years ago we saw very little awareness in the field, today we see a lot more interest. In parallel we have witnessed the development of the autonomous car, which i think will grow exponentially in the next ten years,” Diskin tells Geektime. “We have understood for several years that the issue of securing the connected car is going to be very competitive in the automotive market.”

Israel has been one of the leaders in the automotive security space, with companies like Argus Cyber Security, Karamba, and TowerSec – which was sold this year to HARMAN for $75 million – attracting a lot of attention from investors at home and abroad.

Recognizing that they are entering a popular sector, Diskin believes that his team will be able to stand out based on their comprehensive understanding of the threats to connected vehicles.

“Both the connected and autonomous car create lots of opportunities for the customers but also plenty of risk. Since we have very good experience in both the offensive and defensive areas of cyber, we knew that this experience was very relevant to this world, and brought us to the automotive industry.”

“Today, the main problem is that most of the solutions are focused on creating firewalls to protect the electronic systems in the car. Now the awareness in the industry is that firewalls aren’t enough. You need end-to-end solutions that can deal with the growing risk.”

He advocates a holistic approach to protect the cars, that cover everything from the electronic system, software, network, and up to the fleet level. Diskin believes that securing the Internet of Vehicles (connected and autonomous cars), like the Internet of Things, will demand new concepts, approaches and production solutions if we are to fully enjoy the opportunities that the technology creates.

Looking down the open road

The German auto giant owns a 40% stake in the project, with the Israeli partners holding the other 60%.As a joint venture, CyMotive will be working exclusively with VW for the foreseeable future, although it would be reasonable to expect that they could find opportunities to sell their solutions to other manufacturers further down the line.

Still at an early stage, the company is remaining tight lipped on what kind of solutions they plan on bringing to market.

Already working on one product, Diskin believes that they will eventually develop a number of different solutions as they continue to grow. As a part of this effort, he says that they are recruiting tens of cyber experts and engineers as well as developers that will be able to help them through all the challenges that they are going to face along the way.

While the bulk of their operations will be performed in Israel, the team plans on opening a sister company in Wolfsburg, Germany some time in the next two to three months to boost their progress there.

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Gabriel Avner

About Gabriel Avner

Gabriel has an unhealthy obsession with new messaging apps, social media and pretty much anything coming out of Apple. An experienced security and conflict consultant, he has written for The Diplomatic Club, the Marine War College, and covers military affairs with TLV1 radio. He mostly enjoys reading articles wherever his ADD leads him to and training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. EEED 44D4 B8F4 24BE F77E 2DEA 0243 CBD1 3F7C F4B6

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