Bolster cybersecurity industry by expanding access for religious community

At its core, Israeli ingenuity is about best utilizing and amplifying the ideas and skills of the people of Israel.

HACKERS AND cybersecurity (photo credit: REUTERS)
HACKERS AND cybersecurity
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman has described cybersecurity as the “main tool in the daily work to thwart terrorism.
“As of today, the ability of rivals to take shortcuts to acquire groundbreaking technologies, which in past they could not do, compels us to be better than we used to be,” he said at the Cybertech TLV 18 conference in January. “Therefore, we must be at the global front of technology, and that is what we are trying to do and working on daily.”
Cyberwarfare can include attacks on critical infrastructure, the banking industry, hospitals, aerospace and defense, and much more. Hamas hacked the phones of dozens of Israeli soldiers last year. Attempts to attack Israeli critical infrastructure, including water, electricity and railroads, number in the hundreds of thousands per day, according to Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel of Tel Aviv University. If the attacks would be successful, disasters of huge proportions could ensue, God forbid.
This is a clear, present, and costly global threat and burden. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Risks Report, cyberattacks are among the five most serious current risks internationally. PwC has reported that cyber threats are the fourth-greatest worry for CEOs, and that 87% of CEOs worldwide are investing in cybersecurity to build trust with customers. The Cybersecurity Ventures market research firm has estimated that cyber-crime damage will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021.
Israel consistently stays ahead of the curve when it comes to global trends in technology and security, and the cyber sector is no exception. In 2017, the Israeli cybersecurity industry raised more than $814 million and accounted for 16% of that industry’s total international investment, trailing only the US. Israel’s strong cyber identity stands to benefit not only the country’s security, but also its economy, with cyber products and services becoming a popular national export amid the skyrocketing global demand for them.
Yet, despite constantly escalating cyber threats and rising cyber investments, some in Israel’s cybersecurity industry have estimated a shortfall of close to 2,000 highly trained cyber engineers, which will continue to rise. Why? There just don’t seem to be enough employees who are properly trained for this field.
The primary path to senior positions in Israel’s cyber industry – roles in which great minds can truly make a difference – is participation in cyber units within the military. This makes the field virtually inaccessible to computer science and software engineering graduates from the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and National Religious communities, which are traditionally not represented in those army intelligence units. This ultimately means that Israel’s commercial and defense cyber sectors are missing out on outstanding engineers from across the religious community.
THE JERUSALEM College of Technology, however, is filling the gap and helping the cyber industry access this crucial source of manpower through the Cyber Elite program. This marks the latest phase of JCT’s broader mission to strengthen the economy and security by providing religious students with the highest level of academic and practical training in engineering, business, and health sciences.
Cyber Elite provides intensive cyber training to outstanding graduates of the college’s degree programs in software engineering and computer science, while simultaneously placing them in cyber departments of multinationals, aerospace and defense companies, and in cyber start-ups. JCT partners with the Rashi Foundation’s Cyber Education Center, which is responsible for the intensive pedagogical component of the program, and the Israel National Cyber Directorate within the Prime Minister’s Office, on this groundbreaking initiative.
The 11-month program builds on JCT’s history of excellence in engineering, computers, electro-optics, electronics, and defense-related R&D. A significant number of JCT graduates have gone on to join top military intelligence units, launch hi-tech companies, and become top engineers within aerospace and defense industries.
JCT is a religious college with over 4,500 students, more than 2,000 of whom are haredi. Approximately 40% of our students study engineering, and we train 20% of Israel’s women engineers. One out of every five Israeli women studying computer science and/or software engineering does so at JCT, and 53% of our computer science students are women – 18% higher than any other Israeli university.
Apart from Cyber Elite, JCT as an institution believes in training students from the National Religious and haredi communities to reach their highest potential. We do not believe in selling them short by offering them short-term training just so that they can get jobs. It is a long-term investment. Religious students have exceptional skills, and we help them develop those skills in order to transform the industries they work in.
Only the most exceptional students have participated in Cyber Elite. Prospective participants underwent several stages of intensive screening in a process that lasted several months, carried out by the Cyber Education Center. Thirty-one students were selected for the program, 16 men and 15 women. The technical interviews provided Cyber Elite with insight into which cyber specialty the students were best suited for.
Cyber Elite also coordinated the employment segment of the program in partnership with 16 companies in the cyber industry. All of the companies where Cyber Elite participants currently work have expressed interest in offering them full-time employment when the program ends, and approximately 30 other companies would like the opportunity to recruit them.
All of the companies reported that the Cyber Elite students are intelligent, curious and hard workers who rise to, and often surpass, the challenges given to them. The companies have told JCT that they are extremely appreciative of Cyber Elite because they never would have had the opportunity to meet or employ these students without this program.
The students, in turn, have repeatedly affirmed that without Cyber Elite, it would have been impossible for them to enter this industry, without the special training and employment that the program helps provide. In typical results for this program, a hassidic woman who used to be a seamstress now works at a Fortune 50 company, and a hassidic man now works in a high-level cyber position in the aerospace and defense industry. These outcomes were previously unimaginable.
Through Cyber Elite and all of JCT’s academic offerings, the college effects significant positive socioeconomic change and creates greater harmony in society by enabling various sectors to work together and learn from one another in the workforce. A view of JCT’s students and graduates completely counters any stereotypes about the haredi community’s contributions to the State of Israel.
At its core, Israeli ingenuity is about best utilizing and amplifying the ideas and skills of the people of Israel. Cyber Elite is ensuring that the special and often overlooked talents of the religious community are maximally put to work amid an ever-changing security landscape.
The writer is director of strategic partnerships at the Jerusalem College of Technology/Lev Academic Center (Machon Lev).