Cyber Focus: Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBM Software and Systems, speaks during the opening of the 'CyberTech 2014' international conference in Tel Aviv. (Agence France-Presse)
TEL AVIV — Israel moved a step closer toward its goal of becoming a global cyber power last week after three leading US information technology firms agreed to join state, industrial and academic sectors in a program to transform a sleepy desert city into an international cyber innovation hub.
IBM and a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and EMC Corp. announced plans to invest millions of dollars in cyber research operations co-located in Beersheba — Israel’s designated cyber capital — along with military and intelligence organizations, defense and commercial firms, national labs and Ben-Gurion University.
The firms are the latest in a growing list of top-tier defense, civilian and dual-use entities, including Cisco Systems and Elbit’s new Incubit Ventures, involved in a state-led effort to cultivate what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls “a comprehensive ecosystem of cyber innovation.”
The announcements capped more than a week of cyber-focused meetings and presentations by Netanyahu and other senior officials that started at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and culminated in CyberTech 2014, a two-day international conference of Israel Defense and the National Cyber Bureau, part of the prime minister’s office.
“The idea is to put together a consortium, if you will, of our security arms, our university and research capabilities and business together … on a grand scale,” Netanyahu told several thousand CyberTech participants.
Netanyahu said the government is transferring national labs, military intelligence units and C4I organizations to Beersheba and building a train connecting Tel Aviv and other parts of the country with Israel’s National Cyber Command and a new industrial park co-located adjacent to Ben-Gurion University.
“We view this as a great partnership between government and business. … We’ll have security outfits, our university and an industrial park all within a walking distance of 100 yards. That’s called a cyber hub,” Netanyahu said.
Steven Mills, IBM senior vice president and group executive for IBM Software & Systems, said IBM’s planned cybersecurity center will “harness talent, knowledge and collaboration” of IBM researchers and hundreds of local specialists from Trusteer, an Israeli firm acquired last year for an estimated $650 million.
Since 1998, IBM has acquired 12 Israeli firms with a combined high-tech workforce exceeding 2,000.
“We know there are cyber skills here. … Israel has become an important part of our security operations and corporate structure,” Mills told an opening Jan. 27 session of CyberTech 2014.
Chandra McMahon, senior vice president at Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions, another conference speaker, accented the importance of government-industry collaboration.
“We truly believe that cybersecurity is a team sport. … We’re looking to leverage local cyber high-tech capabilities to bring innovative solutions to our customers abroad,” she said.
At another international event here Jan. 29, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, director of Israeli military intelligence, said cyber capabilities offer “nearly limitless” potential for changing the face of warfare.
“Cyber, in my humble opinion … will be revealed in a not very long time as a revolution greater than the invention of gunpowder or the usage of space at the start of the past century,” Kochavi told a gathering of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
Eased Export Controls
Netanyahu said his government plans to ease export constraints to encourage joint ventures and expanded trade. Advanced infrastructure and relaxed licensing will make it easier to bridge Israel’s front-line capabilities in military cyber with the growing commercial market, he said.
“The government usually puts constraints on things that have implications for national security, but we have consciously made the decision to lower these restraints because we’re taking a gamble,” he said. “Growing partnerships entails some risks, but we’re willing to do so in order to get a much bigger gain.”
Rami Efrati, head of the civilian division of Israel’s National cyber Bureau (INCB), said the bureau has concluded extensive staff work with all relevant government organizations and will soon be ready to present detailed cyber export policy recommendations.
Israel intends to pattern its dual-use cyber export policy on guidelines governed by the international Wassenaar Arrangement, he said.
In a Jan. 28 interview, Efrati said the INCB plans to build a national cyber Energy Response Team to share and coordinate cyber-related information.