Netanyahu at the 5th Annual Cybersecurity Conference: Challenge Assumptions

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Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, gave the opening speech at the 5th Annual Cybersecurity Conference in Tel Aviv. After asking his audience if they spoke Hebrew and getting minimal response, he gave a short introduction in that language. When he was done, the audience clapped. He asked, “Did you lie when you said you don’t understand Hebrew or did you just assume that what I said was worth clapping for?”

This set the tone for his speech, where he urged the audience to challenge their assumptions, adding that cybersecurity is all about challenging how the world around us works: “We have to constantly learn simply to maintain our positions. This is the new norm; that change is always here and always accelerating.”

Talking about the relationship between government and business, Netanyahu told a story about his college years in Cambridge, MA, USA and a large, ugly building in Kendall Square with bars on the windows. He found out that this was used by a government organization (NSA or CIA or other, he didn’t know), for interfacing with the local colleges. This interface led to many of the ideas that later formed the basis for Silicon Valley and other tech centers, a pattern that he believes Israel should follow in order to be successful today, tomorrow and 50 years in the future.

Netanyahu highlighted one of the biggest problems facing the information security realm today: lack of trained people. This is a problem worldwide, not just in Israel, he said: “In the US alone there are over 300,000 open cybersecurity jobs. This is nearly 6% of all open jobs within the country.”

 In order to fill the gap between the available talent today and what will be needed to secure the future, he stated that Israel is working with universities to put governmental headquarters in and near universities in order to help educate the next generation of security professionals.

He held up the city of Be’er Shiva as a center of high tech and security partnership between the government and private sector, stating that there had been over $1bn worth of startups purchase in Israel over the last year alone and hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into investments with the security sector. To continue to encourage this growth, his government will be giving tax breaks to organizations that put their security organizations in the Be’er Shiva area. 

As a member of the audience, the portion of his presentation that was most challenging was Netanyahu’s discussion of defense in the cyber realm: “Where do we draw the fence? Do we draw it around the company? Around the generation plant? Around the airport? Who do you notify?”

The prime minister stated that even though his country was under attack by both hackers and by non-governmental organizations, by far the biggest concern to him was hostile governments who he said were attacking the privacy of his people and the resources of his government. The efforts of bringing the Israeli Cyber Command, the business-government partnerships in Be’er Shiva and the thrust of teaching more students about cybersecurity are all part of a concerted response to the forces Netanyahu believes are arrayed against his country. 

Quoting a recent visit from Eric Shmidt, head of Google, Netanyahu stated that Israel is the number-two incubator of security technology, only behind Silicon Valley itself in terms of security innovation. This is not a position he seemed to be willing to relinquish any time soon.

“We are moving ahead and we are committed to staying ahead. If you are not investing in Israel, you should be. If you’re already in Israel, you should be doing more.”

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