For a couple of years now, tech industry press has been alluding to Silicon Wadi in Israel as the next Silicon Valley. Recently, I went on a 3-day cyber security mission to Israel, organized by Dr. Harry Saal, which included attending Israel’s cyber security conference, Cybertech 2015. I was able to experience first-hand the exciting innovation that is happening in Israel in the arena of cyber security. Security is a top concern for companies of all sizes. With the rise of cloud computing, ubiquitous application access, mobile, and BYOD trends, the arena of cyber-security, which covers security vulnerabilities, fraud, and more, is growing significantly. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Israel, where there are also significant existential threats, is evolving as the world’s cyber security innovation hub. As IT World puts it, there are now as many cyber security start-ups in Beer-Sheva as there are Starbucks in Seattle!
We spent our first day at Ben Gurion University, about which I have written before. I especially enjoyed touring BGU’s cyber security labs. BGU has become the hub of Israeli cyber security research and innovation and has contributed greatly to the establishment of Cyber Spark, the Israeli Cyber Innovation Arena established with the National Cyber Bureau. As part of the mission, I enjoyed meeting a number of local VCs investing heavily into security alongside a number of founders/startups, many of which are emerging out of the BGU labs. In addition, Israeli Defense Forces are helping to turn Beer-Sheva, the city in the Negev desert where BGU campuses are located, into the country’s cyber capital. The IDF’s elite telecommunications and intelligences units are being relocated to Beer-Sheva to leverage the University’s education and research environment while also fostering collaboration with the international corporate giants investing in the space. For example, the research these labs are doing is attracting widespread global interest, including from the US, China, Europe, and Australia. Major corporations such as IBM, Deutsche Telecomm, EMC, and PayPal are all establishing R&D centers at Israel’s cyber park.
Our hosts at BGU included its president, Professor Rivka Carmi, and its cyber security lab director Professor Yuval Elovici. Prof. Carmi is a real force of nature. Her vision for BGU as well as her enthusiasm, passion, and hard work have driven BGU to its position as a world-renowned academic institution and center for cyber security. This trip was not the first time I’ve met Prof. Elovici, whose out-of-the-box thinking is unparalleled. Discussions with him about security risks emerging with the evolution of drones and the Internet of Things were eye-opening. All of us participating in the mission learned so much about different areas of security, innovating ways of attacking problems, and how the lab’s research teams work in collaboration with startups and other enterprises. We covered topics like mobile network security, secure phones, application of big data analytics, detection of unknown malware, data misuse detection via user profiling and sensitive content representation, and protecting critical infrastructures via various methods of detecting anomalies in servers and communication. Fellow conference participant Dudu Mimran blogged about some of these topics, and you can read his thoughts here.
I remain in awe of the entrepreneurial spirit of the Israelis, who are working within geopolitical constraints and using those constraints to their advantage by becoming world leaders in cyber security. On a personal note, for as long as I can remember, Israel has been important to my family. Growing up Jewish in Russia, then immigrating to the US in my teen years, our family always viewed Israel as a democratic, pluralistic safety zone. We’ve remained passionate about working to keep Israel a vibrant intellectual, academic, and entrepreneurial community despite its obvious geopolitical challenges. As I have found success within the constraints of beginning among the only women in Berkeley’s computer science program, I can relate to how Israelis continue to strive hard to attain success amid a challenging climate, especially in an arena as critical as cyber security. I can’t wait to see what comes out of Silicon Wadi next.The photo above is of those traveling on Dr. Harry Saal’s Cyber Security Mission to Israel, including Kira Makagon in back, with BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi’s arm around her.