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Mention “cybersecurity conference” and most people think of the annual RSA Conference, which was held last week. But halfway around the world, the annual CyberTech Tel Aviv event is building momentum as one of the largest gatherings of cybersecurity professionals in the world. This year, more than 10,000 people representing 67 countries amassed in Tel Aviv, and I had the privilege of being one of them.
Israel is making a name for itself, and that name is Cyber Nation. A 2011 government resolution created the National Cyber Bureau as an advising body for the Prime Minister. The bureau’s main mission is to bolster Israel’s national cybersecurity defenses, but a secondary mission is to promote research and development in the cyber field and encourage the commercial cyber industry in Israel.
As a keynote speaker at the conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of the importance of developing cybersecurity technology and solutions as a key economic driver and a leading export for Israel. Toward this end, he said, the country established CyberSpark, the new Israeli Cyber Innovation Arena that is a joint venture of the Israel National Cyber Bureau, Beer-Sheva Municipality, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and leading companies in the cybersecurity industry.
CyberSpark offers a comprehensive ecosystem that is unprecedented in terms of innovation and prospective success. It creates a unique geographical cluster of leading cyber companies, multinational corporations, ground-breaking academic research, leading technology defense units, specialized educational platforms, and the National CERT. The physical proximity and shared interests among these parties drive new collaborations and opportunities.
The efforts are paying dividends. In 2016 alone, there were 83 new cybersecurity companies launched in Israel. And while global investment in cybersecurity startups dropped off last year, money continued to funnel into Israeli startups at a brisk pace.
One of the major early stage investors in Israeli startups is YL Ventures, which had a hand in showcasing new companies at CyberTech in a shoot-out style competitive event. “The Startup Competition is the key event for cybersecurity startups during CyberTech,” said Yoav Leitersdorf, Managing Partner, YL Ventures. “When thinking about the format of the competition, we wanted to give Israeli entrepreneurs the opportunity to not only expose their startup and pitch in front of leaders of the most influential vendors, customers and investors in the international cybersecurity landscape, but also receive meaningful feedback and advice about their companies. We aimed at putting a spotlight on the judges as we believe that the entrepreneurs are extremely interested in hearing how these high level executives analyze and evaluate early-stage start-ups.”
The panel of judges included: Jacques Benkoski, Partner, USVP; Bob Blakley, Global Director of Information Security Innovation, Citigroup; Glenn Chisholm, CTO, Cylance; David B. Cross, Cloud Security Engineering Director, Google Security and Privacy Organization; Alex Doll, Founder & Managing General Partner, TenEleven Ventures; Jay Leek, Managing Director, ClearSky Venture Fund and former CISO & Managing Director, The Blackstone Group; Doug Russell, Managing Director & SVP of Strategy & Corporate Development, MassMutual Ventures; and Rich Telljohann, Director, Business and Corporate Development, IBM Security.
While many startups vied for the opportunity to appear in the Startup Competition, only these five finalists were chosen to compete:
- Aperio Systems (winner of the competition) has developed a technology that is said to identify, send out alerts and take real-time corrective action when hackers try to artificially manipulate data to damage critical infrastructures such as electricity grids or water supply networks. Through the use of algorithms, Aperio’s technology scours the systems and alerts users to forgeries by monitoring the machinery and seeking inconsistencies in physical realities compared to their historical performance. Any mismatches generate an alert and the software pinpoints the attacked equipment and faked process data.
- Cybellum has developed a Zero-Day Prevention Platform that prevents and detects zero-day attacks. The solution claims to defeat cyber attacks while drastically reducing the enormous cost of traditional security. To date, Cybellum has discovered twelve zero-day vulnerabilities.
- Cymulate is a SaaS-based cyber attack simulation platform, like an automated hacker that always tries to penetrate your network from different attack vectors, and challenges your security posture. By exposing hidden vulnerabilities and offering actionable insights, Cymulate helps identify and resolve security gaps before it is too late.
- Sepio Systems’ supply chain security suite protects organizations against device supply chain attacks. The suite stops rogue hardware before it can damage the normal operation of the organization or degrade system performance.
- Intezer uses a process that is reminiscent of DNA mapping to stop attacks. Intezer understands all the 1’s and 0’s running in memory, their function and origin, leaving no stone unturned. This new approach enables organizations to not only identify malicious code, but also have an unprecedented level of control over all software running on the organization’s systems. Security teams can now detect sophisticated in-memory attacks such as software tampering (e.g. the SWIFT attack), and even discover legitimate software potentially putting the organization at risk.
These companies (and many others like them) hope to become the next Check Point Software, one of the largest and most successful cybersecurity companies to come out of Israel. Other interesting Israeli companies that went public are Imperva, Cyberark and Varonis.
YL Ventures also hosted networking events to give the newly formed companies and up-and-coming entrepreneurs access to industry luminaries for advice and mentoring. “We believe strongly that startups will succeed faster and go further when they can benefit from the insight and experiences of industry leaders. We do this for our own portfolio companies like Twistlock, Karamba Security and Hexadite, and we are happy to help the broader Israeli startup community as well.”
One of the events was a Fireside Chat where the panelists discussed greenfield opportunities for startups and shared tips on what they look for when deciding to back new companies. They also talked about Israeli entrepreneurs that come out of the 8200 unit of the Israeli Defense Force (an elite cybersecurity unit), how to build big companies, and the future of cyber insurance.
In addition to David Cross of Google, Glenn Chisholm of Cylance and Jay Leek of ClearSky Venture Fund, other panel members offering insights included: Steve Krausz, General Partner, USVP; Mark Hatfield, Founder & General Partner, TenEleven Ventures; and Mark Goodman, Managing Director, MassMutual Ventures. Scott Crawford, Research Director of Information Security at 451 Research, presented his predictions and key trends of the cybersecurity industry in 2017.
If there was a common theme at CyberTech it was how to use technology to augment what humans do. There aren’t enough cybersecurity experts to meet the needs today, so technology has to be able to pick up the slack. This will allow people to be relieved of mundane but necessary tasks in order to focus on critical tasks that require human thought. With so many cybersecurity companies putting efforts into developing these kinds of tools and technologies, we can look forward to solutions that automate response capabilities when a cybersecurity event is detected.