The secrets of the Israel's cybersecurity industry success

(di Maria Grazia Labellarte)

The State of Israel is increasing its role of leader in the world of defense against virtual threats, but absolutely dangerous as physical ones.

Here our interview to Uri Ben Yaacov starts, Lt. Col. (Res.), he is the Director of Development and a Senior Researcher at The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT). In addition, he serves as a lecturer at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy in the field of Open Source Intelligence, Simulations and Laws and Terrorism.

Can you tell us where the secret of your country cybersecurity industry success lies, as it is one of the most advanced in the world?

Israel is under threat, both in the physical world as well as in the cyber one, and these threats are considered national security issues. This puts Israel in a deep need for advanced technologies, to be used in both real arena and cyber one.

Many states are living now a days under an ongoing war, “war between the wars” as some prefer to call it. Its a different war, not similar at all to anything we know from the past, a war between new rising technologies in which a player does not always have to identify himself and to face the international community judging him on taken actions. In such a situation where a player can be a one man “army”, a none state actor might have advantages comparing to his position in the real world. Such a player can also be a proxy used by a state actor.

Due to the above, the Israeli state is deeply involved in new technologies development, both in the government sector as well as in the private one. This has to do with technologies in general and in those applicable to the cyber domain in particular:

The state’s involvement starts in the education system in schools, encouraging students of different ages, especially girls, to learn and as many as possible STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses.

Those students have the chance of practising their knowledge during their army duty and then to join the many companies that are operating in this field. Part of those companies are being assisted by Government supported Green Houses (via The Israel Innovation Authority or others) or different Private Equities.

We often read about Israeli investments in the sector, cyber security company start-up: can you tell us how the cyber education works at school level? How does the government organize its support to the most promising start-up? How does it identify them? How does it promote cyber - innovation?

Understanding that the safety and security of Israel is reliant always on the up and coming generation it is a government priority to help prepare the next generation for the challenges of the future. Thus, the state’s involvement starts in the education system in schools, encouraging students of different ages, especially girls, to enroll in STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematic) courses. The Government has made these subjects (especially Math) a priority if it wants to maintain its high-tech edge.

Organizations such as the Israeli Advanced Technologies Industries work together with Government ministries, High-tech companies, Education NGO’s to promote STEM education in Israel and connect the different stake holders.

The “Israeli Innovation Authority” is an independent publicly funded agency addressing the increasingly developing innovative ecosystems of businesses. This is supposed to serve the innovative technologies from the very early-stage of entrepreneurship, up to the international marketing and manufacturing stage. This authority provides entrepreneurs and companies with practical tools (and even funding platforms if needed), starting with the business plan, the products development and moving into the international market.

"AI is always more and more indispensable in the cyber world", both to speed up the analysis of huge amounts of data, and to remove humankind from repetitive and alienating tasks. Isn't there the risk of taking too complex skills to manage tools in the company or within an organization?

Everything runs a risk. It’s about seeing if the benefits outweigh the risks when moving forward with new technologies. The human element is crucial for decision making process and so there is a tight rope one must walk to balance between the risks and rewards of new technologies.

How does Artificial Intelligence relate to Ethics and how should we be confronted with Artificial Intelligences? What are the risks associated with the coexistence of human beings and AI? There are nations, such as Estonia for example, beginning to think about it seriously, what is your opinion about?

The field of artificial intelligence is a very interesting, exciting and filled with many new opportunities. However, as we continue to advance this field and we give more and more tasks to machines especially where law, privacy, law enforcement all intersect brings an entire new set of ethical questions. AI might be quicker at processing larger amounts of data but it can’t make emotional-ethical-moral decisions. By removing the human from the equation, the loss of morality in decision making in every aspect is lost, and thus pushing the ethical envelope as we continue to advance this technology.

Military’s around the world are adapting AI technology with robotics to create new weapons systems and or soldiers. At what point will a computer decide when to shoot or not, to make emotional ethical-moral decisions on the battle field? The risks are in allowing computers/machines to overtake every aspect of life and automating it, taking the human aspect out. We run the risk of losing our morality and ethical decision-making process. I think a country like Estonia that is so interconnected runs many risks if it does not think about it. They also being as interconnected as they are can pave the way, show the world, and pioneer. All this without mentioning the risks of hacks and technology falling into the wrong hands.

The cyber dimension is increasingly used to support Intelligence, both for military and industrial purposes. What are the relationships between the two disciplines?

The cyber dimension allows for interconnectivity like never before, between people, products, and across all types of platforms. Cyber capabilities support all types of intelligence and to be one step ahead of your competition both in industry or the military you need to have better intelligence. So, the support of cyber technologies is crucial. Now we are seeing how private enterprise and industry are creating new cyber tools that militaries increasingly want and it becomes cheaper for a military not to have to invest in as much of the R & D and private enterprise wins with the ability to sell their product to the military. So, the relationship between industry and military is deepening.

Foto: IDF / Milrem Robotics