Former NSA head Keith Alexander addresses the Tel Aviv University cyber conference September 14, 2014..
(photo credit: CHEN GALILI)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other speakers on Sunday trumpeted “Beersheba as a new cyber center” similar to Silicon Valley, with serious “tax breaks for those” groups locating there at the fourth Tel Aviv University cyber conference.
Netanyahu’s cyber bureau chief, Dr. Eviatar Metania, was one of many who discussed the new Beersheba cyber center, which is now kicking into full swing.
Metania added that in the coming weeks, “around Rosh Hashana,” they will announce a “new national protective cyber shield” based around the Beersheba cyber center.
The joint announcements along with the prime minister’s showering of praise on Metania also potentially indicated that Netanyahu may be empowering Metania at the expense of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in ongoing internal turf wars.
The prime minister also echoed a conference theme mentioned by over half a dozen speakers, that the key to defending Israel’s cyber face is focusing on the human element.
At one point he pointed to his head, signaling the dependence of cyber “hardware” on the cyber “software” emanating from the human brain.
Echoing another theme of the conference, the prime minister praised cooperative work among “government, the private sector and academia,” saying that Israel has the “finest minds” in the cyber arena, helping it establish “an Iron Dome of cyber security.”
Further, he said that “cyber defense solutions will be the biggest basis of human economic growth in this century,” showing pride that “Israeli companies developed the first cyber technologies: firewalls,” and other new technologies.
Next, he added that this innovation would pay off with corporate profits since “no nation on earth will not need cyber security.”
He said the hardest challenge was “intellectual,” since one could only guess on the best way to mobilize resources, agreeing with many other speakers that the key was that Israel “always must allow for changes as we go along.”
Netanyahu also made a possibly noteworthy slip on connections between the US National Security Agency and its Israeli sister agency, the INSA.
He said, “if you don’t know what the US NSA is, it’s Israel’s, it’s the US’s Unit 8200.”
Several leaks, including official documents from the Edward Snowden NSA trove have heavily suggested areas where the US and Israeli NSAs have no boundaries, possibly even with the INSA accessing data for the NSA which US law prohibits the NSA from directly accessing.
It may have been a mere slip, but Netanyahu’s initially seeming to say the NSA is “Israel’s” could give ammunition to those saying that the US is using Israel to circumvent some of its own privacy laws.
In another unchoreographed controversy, Metania slammed IDF Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan after he walked off the stage for saying that draftees should choose combat units over cyber units.
Responding, Metania implied Dayan was out of touch with current IDF needs and threats as opposed to the past and that it was inappropriate to tell draftees what units to choose.
Dayan also broke with nearly every conference speaker and three “doom and gloom” videos showing cyber risks, telling the conference that “some are exaggerating the threat” and that he thought Israel “is in a relatively good place” in cyber defense.
Meanwhile, former US national security adviser Keith Alexander framed the conference’s harrowing challenge of defending data, focusing on the massive evolution in the cyber playing field and noting that in the last year, due to continuous technological advances, more new data were created (and need to be protected) than in the last 5,000 years combined.
He said that when the US first started seriously developing cyber defense capabilities, not long ago, it had over 15,000 network enclaves that were so diffuse that they were essentially indefensible.
Alexander as well as many other speakers commented that extraordinary advances are happening in Israel to deal with this problem.
The former NSA head said that part of the key was that the challenge is too large for any one private or national group (noting that the US alone had faced 350 attacks in the last year), such that success will be achieved only through cooperation by many countries and a myriad of private sector firms with different areas of expertise.
Former US deputy secretary of defense George England echoed some of Alexander’s themes saying that more work needs to be done to close the asymmetric advantage and gap in favor of cyber hackers over defenders.
England said that part of the asymmetry was inherent in that, for hackers, “the cost of entry is low” whereas “the payoff is high.”