Five cyber chiefs of Abraham Accords countries appeared together in public in Israel for the first time on Tuesday at the Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv.
The list included: UAE Cyber Chief Mohamed al-Kuwaiti, Bahraini Cyber Chief Salman bin Mohammed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, Moroccan Cyber Chief Brig.-Gen. El Mostafa Rabii, US Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary for Policy Robert Silvers and Israel National Cyber Directorate Chief (INCD) Gabi Portnoy.
Asked about connecting past or future cyber cooperation, Kuwaiti said that “bringing more and more partners to the UAE… through many events we have created partnerships with Israelis… helps us to build our ecosystem. This achievement stays and carries on to 2023 and will definitely enhance things as we go.”
Regarding cybersecurity challenges, he said that “the human resources and the human factors – this year and the next years are the challenging human factor. We are trying to upscale and augment the human factors with AI [artificial intelligence] and many technologies to make the job easier.”
He said there needed to be a focus on “advanced technologies and the use of that technology for the best forward benefit for transparent trust. We must keep [using] opportunities for working together.”
“We definitely need more of that and of taking it to that second level of building this harmony in order to achieve that common goal: an immune system” against devastating “zero days” cyberattacks, said the UAE cyber chief.
Rabii said that “the major achievement in 2022 for us in Morocco was the implementation of the law of 2020. Thanks to this law, we now have the tools and the capacity to properly address cyber threats in our culture.
“We need to build trust between our people and agencies,” he said.
“To keep cyberspace free and secure, we need to collaborate with cyber agencies without thinking about if it is cost-effective or not because this is a partnership… guaranteeing trust.”
New kids on the block
Bahrain cyber chief Khalifa said that “we are the new kid on the block – we have only been here for two years. It is good to learn from our partners. The greatest achievement is to be able to see [what is happening with] our CNIs [critical national infrastructure organizations] which are most important to us.
“To be able to see and respond to an attack also starts with having visibility,” he said. “If you have no visibility, [the cyber] iron dome cannot do its work.”
In addition, he said, “I want to compliment [INCD chief] Gabi [Portnoy] on his achievements. We have been working together behind the scenes – past the stage of trust. The sooner we move past bureaucracy,” the sooner all of the countries can provide better cyber defense.
“Vendors have to understand. Governments must scale big. The change is different for us. We want to try out new technologies, experiment quickly and maybe succeed or maybe fail, but we cannot deal with black boxes [closed systems] in the cloud or on the ground,” the Bahrain cyber chief said.
“We need to move toward standardization, which allows us to try multiple technologies, so we don’t need to rip up investments and start all over again,” Khalifa said. “OCSF (Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework) seems to be the de facto standard for our framework – the message is it takes a lot of effort.”
US CYBER chief Silvers said that “we want to cement our role as a beacon or lighthouse for the broader cyber community about what to do in the throes” of a major cyber incident where wild volumes of conflicting and unclear information are streaming in.
“When the ‘Log4j’ [cyber] vulnerability was disclosed publicly – it set off one of greatest responses in history. One problem was organizations didn’t know which of their software stack included Log4j codes, so they didn’t know where to patch. They didn’t know what their vulnerability was,” he said. “We built up a library of all commercial software packages known to include Log4j.
“There was an old way to do business with cybersecurity which didn’t get us where we needed to be. We needed to try things that haven’t been tried,” added the top US cyber official.
Silvers also noted at the conference that “together, we can take on cyber threats posed by Iran, while Iranian cyber threat actors have continued to improve.”
Next, he flagged that when he arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, he was thrilled to see that “half of the flights are to Dubai, and also with flights to Marrakech and Manama. We need to have the courage to break from prior practices.”
INCD chief Portnoy explained that “the trust was there from the beginning. We speak very openly, sometimes too openly. We share the same interest in improving countries’ cybersecurity. Cooperation is better to have a secure region and maybe to affect the whole Middle East regarding cybersecurity.
“Governments – we are the problem and not the solution,” he said. “We don’t run fast enough. With cooperation from industry, we will be a lot faster. We see Iran[ian cyber threats] quite well and Hezbollah and Hamas, but we need visibility all over. Big companies have visibility all over,” he said.
Further, Portnoy said that Israel is regularly and constantly blocking significant cyberattacks by Iran, with the total number of all severe cyberattacks blocked in 2022 reaching around 1,000.
He also disclosed that partners and private sector companies had helped disclose 1,649 vulnerabilities through the INCD’s disclosure program.