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Cybertech 2015: Inside The Military-Technological Complex Of Israel

March 24, 2015

Israel Cybertech SCADA

An exodus of nerds will converge on the Tel Aviv Convention Center for the next two days.

It’s for Cybertech 2015, an event organized by Israel Defense, a media company, together with government institutions like the National Cyber Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Economy.

An estimated 5,000 visitors are attending Cybertech, which is a conference for discussing issues relevant to the Internet, security, and the growing threat of cyber war between countries.

Considered the largest event of its kind in the Middle East, Cybertech brings together start-ups, foreign delegations, and guest speakers from powerful corporations.

Occasions like Cybertech are needed to prepare the Internet, a world-spanning utility that is turning into a battlefield, and the enterprises who profit from it for those rare moments of crisis when hackers strike.

Israel’s preeminence as a cyber-tech power is not surprising when its recent history is examined. It was human capital, cutting edge research, and government subsidies that created a modern state possessing cyber weapons.

21st Century Asian Arms Race (21AAR) is a media partner of Cybertech 2015.

Israel Tel Aviv Convention Center

The venue for Cybertech 2015.

It Starts In Schools

Israel’s robust cyber capabilities exist thanks to a generous defense budget–$14.5 billion in 2014–and a world-class educational system that nurtures talent.

These two factors shaped generations of capable men and women who graduated from Technion and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Furthermore, when Israeli defense contractors prospered in the 1980s, this renaissance coincided with waves of immigration. First by computer scientists and investors from Silicon Valley and later from well-educated Russian Jews fleeing the Soviet Union.

The current idea of “cyber war” was ushered in by Israel’s simmering confrontation with Iran. A watershed was the Stuxnet worm in 2010, when a thumb drive-embedded trojan infected control systems and sabotaged Iranian nuclear centrifuges.

Since Stuxnet, Israel’s keyboard warriors have enjoyed prominence and renown. But this came at a price. As cyber war and subterfuge become commonplace, its perpetrators have to acknowledge that cyber attacks are a two-way street. If one country does it, its rivals can easily learn the same techniques and retaliate.

War By Other Means

It’s the private sector, however, who are pushing the envelope of Israel’s offensive cyber arsenal and the reason why is simple. The software engineers, mathematicians, and hackers employed by the IDF are the best of the best in their schools. Upon completing military service, they transition to civilian life via a start-up.

A perfect example is Argus Cyber Security, whose founders openly advertise the fact that they served with the mysterious Unit 8200.

Curiously, these Israeli start-ups go full circle and often have governments for clients. A community of accomplished technologists, all of whom served in the IDF, is an incredible talent pool to draw from.

At least 100 cybersecurity start-ups are participating in Cybertech. Reflecting its audience, Cybertech’s conference schedule deals with topics relevant to cyber war: Protecting industrial control systems (ICS), the Internet of Things (IoT), financial assets, and stored information.

The ultimate lesson here is the beloved Internet has now assumed the shape of our international order. Nation states co-exist and fight in the real world…and online too.


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