When Israel’s first international cybersecurity conference opens in Tel Aviv on Monday, international superstar corporations like Microsoft, Cisco and IBM will mingle with local online security companies such as Check Point and Cyber Ark to explore areas of cooperation.
The conference is a culmination for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who for months has been pushing the concept of Israel becoming a “Cyber Nation.” A state that could lead the world in cybersecurity technology.
At the Davos World Economic Forum last week, he attended a special meeting on the subject, declaring Israel at the forefront of cybersecurity technology.
“In the information-age information must be protected, otherwise there will be chaos, the jungle,” he said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
“The assessment is that Israel, due to our special circumstances, could offer various solutions in this area.”
But it is possible that the company leading the way, in Israel, is one seldom associated with cybersecurity: Intel.
In 2011, Intel closed a deal to acquire Mcafee, a leading anti-virus company, for $7.68 billion. Though the move seemed somewhat baffling at the time, the company laid out a compelling reason just three weeks ago, when it announced that it was dropping the Mcafee name in favor of Intel Security.
“With the Internet of things becoming a reality, security must be embedded on every architecture and every device,” Intel’s Vice President of Global Consumer Marketing Gary Davis wrote at the time, referring to the increasing connectedness of everyday objects to wireless networks and the Internet.
“We intend to make a new mobile security solution, freely available, later this year with the goal of providing digital security to everyone on every mobile device around the world,” he said.
In other words, Intel believes that as chips move from computers, phones and tablets to thermostats, washing machines and cars, security has to be endemic to its hardware.
“It’s not just a computer chip, it’s the Internet of things,” Intel Israel spokesman Guy Grimland said.
“That means everything is more vulnerable as well. The moment the security is built into the hardware, it’s much better.”
What does that mean for Israel’s cyber scene? Intel is already one of the most important players in Israel’s economy.
On Sunday, the chip-maker celebrated 40 years of work in Israel, touting a cumulative investment of $10.8b. in the Jewish state, and $35b. worth of exports, over 10 percent of which were accounted for in 2013 alone.
Thus far, however, Intel has shown limited interest in Israel’s cyber expertise.
“Has there been leverage of Israeli abilities? No,” Intel Israel CEO Maxine Fassberg told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “The work we do with Mcafee affects all of Intel, but it’s not local.”
That may change, however.
“It’s a direction we have to explore to see what added value we can have,” Fassberg said.
Intel Israel President Mooly Eden said that Israel’s security infrastructure, such as its elite army units and successful cybersecurity companies, make it worth looking at.
“We definitely look at the opportunity of cyber in Israel and see how we can leverage it,” he said.
As the Cyber Conference unfolds in the coming days, the role Israel can play in shaping the global cybersecurity market will become clearer.
And other big-chip companies may follow Intel’s lead.
In the meantime, tech-watchers will remain focused on whether Intel will decide to build its new 10 nanometer chip factory – which could bring billions of dollars of investments and create or preserve hundreds of jobs – in Israel or a competing nation, such as Ireland.
Intel executives remained tight-lipped on the status of negotiations, but said the announcement was sure to take place in 2014.
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