Wine Therapy: Training the next generation of online warriors

The Magshimim program is equipping high- school students with the tools to battle on the front lines of the next cyber-war.

The Magshimim program is equipping high- school students with the tools to battle on the front lines of the next cyber-war. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Magshimim program is equipping high- school students with the tools to battle on the front lines of the next cyber-war.
Cyber warfare is the “sexy part of the cyber world,” says Ophir Ben-Yair, one of a team of managers, recruiters and specialists helping young people explore opportunities in the field of cybersecurity.
Ben-Yair is the manager of the Jerusalem region of Magshimim, a training program for high-school students that provides them with the tools to apply for entry into elite IDF intelligence units. Headed by the Rashi Foundation and Defense Ministry, in collaboration with the National Cyber Bureau, various intelligence units, the Education Ministry and Mifal Hapyis, Magshimim is a social-educational project as well as a scientific-military one, working to expand the number of high school students in the field.
Operating in Israel’s peripheries, it offers – outside regular school hours – a high-quality, advanced educational program that takes the best of Israel’s youth as far as they can go in the world of hi-tech. Throughout the country, hundreds of outstanding youth gather each week to discover the secrets of the vast and fascinating cyber world.
Meeting in Jerusalem, Magshimim program director Raya Bruck, Ben-Yair and later, IDF cyber headquarters recruitment officer “Lieut. H.” sat at Jacko’s Street restaurant in Mahaneh Yehuda to enjoy a gourmet meal and fine wine, and discover how Israel fosters its cyber specialists.
GOAL: To learn how the next generation of cyber warriors are recruited and groomed MEANS: A gourmet meal at Jacko’s Street restaurant in the capital, with wine from Bat Shlomo Vineyards What is cyber warfare? Ophir Ben-Yair: On the official side are countries that need to protect themselves from terrorism and criminal elements, as well as other countries. Warfare today is not necessarily limited to the battlefield, to planes and tanks. An entire country can be paralyzed by people sitting at computers, far from the war arena, without even risking their lives.
Raya Bruck: It is a different battleground from what we are used to. Coalitions change, interests change and states can join forces with one another while attacking each other at the same time. But cyber also has many more aspects in the daily and civil world as well.
Ben-Yair: There are no longer balanced battles in the world.
Bruck: A large state is not necessarily stronger or more successful on the battlefield than smaller states. That is why the rules of war have changed. All of a sudden, terrorist organizations can be as powerful as states if they have the funding for quality cyber. What sets cyber warfare apart from all other kinds of warfare is that it requires very little means. All you need is a warrior with brains and a laptop, and he can cause damage at the state level.
What qualities are you looking for in cyber specialists? Lieut. H.: A whole complex of qualities. Most important are values, because the cyber world is just like using weapons; it’s something you can “change worlds” with, escalating into unbelievable conflicts. Personal responsibility is also required to operate during an incident, in order to understand its significance and the enormous power you hold in your hands. And, of course, we also need maturity and the motivation to excel, to be sharp and reach the highest level. Imagination and creativity are also very important, as well as the ability to distinguish between what is important and what is not.
There are so many agencies dealing with cybersecurity in Israel. Who is the highest authority in the field? Ben-Yair: Just like you can’t ask “Who directs the Internet?” you can’t ask “Who directs cybersecurity?” Who directs the work of all these agencies? Bruck: The prime minister. He made an announcement about a year or two ago that Israel should become one of the five cybersecurity superpowers. From that moment, a number of processes were put in motion, both in the military and civilian arenas, and these extend into many fields, not necessarily military ones – such as education, banking and industry. In today’s world, everything runs into everything else, despite there being separate areas of responsibility.
How does cyber contribute operationally to daily life? Bruck: Move on to the next question.
Let’s say we are asking about other countries based on “foreign sources…”? Ben-Yair: In general, you could say that cybersecurity can reach the most personal and intimate places; it can obtain information from a specific country, computer, person or file. This could be from a person, company, organization or state.
Let’s just say that there is no end to the possibilities. That is why the motto of Magshimim is “The possibilities are endless.”
So, when Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah plays Angry Birds, how frightened should he be? Ben-Yair: I don’t like that game… But seriously, people today are much more aware of the capabilities of SIGINT [intelligence gathered by the interception of signals], and are more cautious. That is why we are looking for particularly creative young people. In our case, the cliché is spot-on; we are looking for those who think outside the box.
Magshimim is a very multi-layered program; its goals are both military and civilian. How does the combination work? Ben-Yair: Our program is funded by the Defense Ministry and the civilian Rashi Foundation. These two organizations joined together for two goals that are in dialogue with one another. The first goal is to increase the number of people working in cybersecurity and to train them for significant service in the IDF. At the same time, the Rashi Foundation is taking advantage of the tremendous demand for cyber specialists, to provide opportunities for weaker segments of the population to enter the field and become socially mobile.
How does Magshimim work to advance these populations? Bruck: We invest a lot in Israel’s geographical and social peripheries. Cyberdoesn’t reach that far, because they don’t have the knowledge, awareness or money for it. The moment we identify appropriate candidates, we advance them three or four years, sometimes even more. We open the appropriate doors for them in the army and later, in civilian life.
What kind of youth are you looking for? Ben-Yair: We are not looking for existing knowledge, but rather for motivation and certain kinds of mental capacity linked to linguistic and mathematical abilities.
Bruck: What characterizes cyber is continuous and nonstop development. When we train youth, we can’t know what kind of future world we are training them for.
For example, just five years ago there weren’t smartphones, and today we can’t live without them. We need to train youth for an unknown world. We have to reinforce self-learning skills, study and curiosity, so that whichever area of the knowledge industry they end up in, they will always succeed, learn and move forward.
Cyber warfare can also serve criminal purposes. How can you identify the right kind of personality in a youth, and know he won’t use the knowledge he garners from Magshimim to do nefarious things? Bruck: All of the program staff are educators, and we work hard on ethical-educational issues. Each kid in the program has to contribute 90 hours to community work, with the aim of forming a mature, involved and caring person. In addition, we collaborate with Bar-Ilan University’s criminology department, specializing in youth, so if something like that happens we have all the necessary professional tools to deal with that youth and set him back on the straight path.
It’s hard for kids not to be sidetracked… Lieut. H.: I can understand them; it’s very exciting to be involved in these things.
We built a program that is appropriate for them, so they understand the kind of weapon they are mastering. It’s a crazy ability that other kids their age don’t have access to.
Ben-Yair: We are an educational start-up. We come from education as well as technology, and therefore it is clear to us that assimilating ethics is a process.
What kind of opportunities are there for a cybersecurity specialist after finishing army service? Ben-Yair: If you were to put on your resumé that you served in one of the Israeli security services’ cybersecurity centers, you would be extremely desirable anywhere in the world.
The outgoing director of the US National Security Agency recently remarked upon the method we use for recruiting into cybersecurity in Israel, including that we train youth before they go through university, since the academic world is different. In contrast to academia, cyber has no rules or structured methods; it is organized anarchy.
The program involves a lot of studying. How do you make the process interesting? Ben-Yair: One method is “gamification” – turning study materials into a game. This way, the students get caught up and don’t notice they are learning. In the summer camp we organize every year, there’s a lot of that. They are suddenly told that one of the instructors was kidnapped or that the program is undergoing a crisis, such as all our money was stolen.
They are given the assignment of finding it, with lots of adventures and action, with visual investments in videos of the kidnapping, news programs and alarms. It really impresses them and keeps them up until morning; at 5 or 6 a.m., we have to send them to bed.
Bruck: We feel we have developed a unique learning system, and this program is like a very exclusive private school.
About the wine:
Sauvignon Blanc from Bat Shlomo winery Description: A dry, white wine with a light body, which exudes an aroma of lemon peel, citrus and apple. Soft flavors of green apple and pomelo linger on the palate. With a light body set off by a sour, fruity taste, this wine is refreshing and made for hot Israeli summer days.
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