Israel and the global need for cyber security

But the warning issued at the start of the conference echoes in its aftermath: the greatest threat of all is the one that no one is thinking about.

September 22, 2014 23:03
Cyber hackers [illustrative]

Cyber hackers [illustrative]. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In a world where most civilians believe the threat of terrorism has lessened, Israel’s 4th Annual Cybersecurity Conference challenged that assumption. The stars of the conference, Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres made appeals to leaders of industry, finance and government.

But their appearances came after a full day of defining the threat of cyber insecurity.

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Almost every aspect of Western life is connected to the Internet. From autos to aircraft, operating rooms to living rooms, from pacemakers to hydroelectric dams, wired devices are making life easier, smarter – and dangerous. Most of these devices are wide open to intrusion. Cyber-savvy terrorists and thieves can walk right in and do as they please. Hearts could be stopped, cars locked up, aircraft shut down, power grids turned off, contagions released, missiles fired.

But the biggest threats, said Dr. Giora Yaron at the outset of the conference, are the ones no one has thought of yet.

For two days in Tel Aviv, leaders from industry, finance and government thought about them, submitting themselves to an information tsunami about the dangers, and the opportunities to develop protection.

Representatives from upwards of 40 countries were asked, “How many of you have not been hacked?” No one raised their hand. The point had punch. Everyone – every person, every company, every country – has been hacked. In fact, most are being hacked right now.

Simply put, protection is important but it will never be enough. Cyber-protection also requires detection. Alarms must sound when intruders get in so they can be evicted or at least trapped.

The problem is that information and technology are moving so fast, human response is just too slow. Retired US General Keith Alexander, former director of the NSA, said that human knowledge is doubling every 13 months and that by the end of the decade will be doubling in a matter of days. At the same time, 50 billion devices around the world will be connected to each other in what industry leaders call the Internet of Everything.

What must be done? Speaker after speaker emphasized the need for a standardized global system built upon unprecedented cooperation between companies and countries. There must be an infrastructure, we were told, to govern the Internet of Everything, to protect citizens and economic systems from devastating cyber-attacks.

“We need a comprehensive solution,” General Alexander said.

“We need to build a common [computer] language for secure interoperability,” said Arik Mimram, president of Qualcomm in Israel.

“We need the help of machines,” analyst Lawrence Pingree added.

The quest for a universal operating system and technology to run that system is driving researchers to study human brains.

Dr. Yossi Yovel offered a presentation on Hacking the Bat Brain. His research focuses on the remarkable capabilities of 10 mg.
bat brains, that enable bats to swarm without confusion and to discern edible moths from plant leaves.

For his part, Dr. Moran Cerf informed us that it is now possible to implant thoughts directly into the human brain.

“This presents the opportunity,” he said, “to create passwords that people do not know they know, making them impossible to steal.”

Biological enhancement technologies are not something we can afford to ignore, Dr. Roey Tzezana said. Tzezana earned his PhD in nanotechnology. In just four or five years, he said, criminals are likely to use memory enhancement technologies in their careers of fraud and theft.

Passwords are likely to disappear in the next few years, said Lockheed’s Haden Land. They will be replaced by biometric certification methods. Things like fingerprint scans, retinal scans, facial recognition and even brainwave patterns are candidates to unlock cell phones, start cars, read email and log into secure networks.

No one said the word “cybernetics” or spoke of the concept: combining artificial and biological systems. But its existence and the perceived need for further development was unmistakable. There is no other apparent way to combine human choice with speed required to address cyber threats.

At the close of a long first day, Prime Minister Netanyahu made an appearance.

He opened his remarks by reminding the audience that terrorists are actively engaged in cyber-assaults.

“Our enemies continue to attack in the field of cyber, an arena that is changing [and] accelerating at a dizzying pace.”

Unlike rockets and tunnels, he said, there are no sirens or instantly discernible enemies when cyber-attacks occur. Even so, he asserted, Israel has “an Iron Dome of cyber security that parallels” its Iron Dome anti-missile system. Still, he said, “we are unrelenting in confronting this threat.”

Acknowledging the complexity of the task, Netanyahu announced that Israel aims to be “an exemplar for robust cyber defense,” and “to standardize the cyber defense market.”

“We are committed to maintaining Israel’s position as a global cyber power,” Netanyahu asserted, which he went on to explain meant that, “We have to implement a policy which protects cyberspace as an open space and as the basis for global growth.” The need for cyber-security is an opportunity for Israel. Announcing the establishment of “Cyber Spark,” a “national cyber campus” in Beersheba, Netanyahu said, “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that cyber-defense solutions will serve as the essential basis for human development and economic growth in this century....I hope you look around, see if what I’m saying makes sense, and if it does, invest in Israeli cyber.”

Peres, Israel’s elder statesman who recently completed his term as Israel’s ninth president, was up first on the second and final day of the conference.

Terrorists like Islamic State, he said, cannot be stopped one-by-one.

“When you are in a swamp, you cannot shoot every mosquito,” he quipped. Peres proposed a combination of economic, religious and political sanctions to stop terror organizations like IS. We need to cut off their access to funds, he said. Reminding the audience of his recent pilgrimage to the Vatican, he also asserted the need for a United Religions organization to discredit any religious justification for terror.

If both days of the conference were a tsunami of information, they were an apt representation of the world in which we live. Things are moving fast. Change is happening overnight. Opportunities for malicious attack are countless. The need for a unified global system with political, technological and religious authority is compelling.

But the warning issued at the start of the conference echoes in its aftermath: the greatest threat of all is the one that no one is thinking about.

The author is the Middle East correspondent and Jerusalem bureau chief for USA Radio Network. Follow him on Twitter @ BrianSchrauger. Originally published at

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