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Cybersecurity: Lessons from Israel

Israel has become a world leader in cybersecurity, accounting for the second-largest number of cybersecurity deals globally behind the US and, crucially, ahead of the UK. 

Such achievements have not gone unnoticed, as the UK financial services industry recently forged close relations with Israel, signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to bolster digital innovation and collaboration between the two countries in the areas of fintech and cybersecurity innovation.

Whilst the MoU aims to benefit each country’s sectors through enhanced cross-border collaboration and initiatives, what does such an agreement say about the UK’s cyber industry, and are there key learnings to be had from Israel?

The “Israel model” 
Coined the ‘Start-up Nation’, Israel’s current set up continues to create a constant stream of talented cybersecurity operatives – the reasons behind their success is clear to see as the Government excels in offering two fundamentals: investment and support.

Firstly, Israeli citizens are drafted into the national service, where the best and brightest coders and hackers are recruited as teens by the Israeli Defense Force, which are then funneled into the Israeli government’s elite cyber warfare units.

These elite units are some of the most advanced in the world. Unit 8200, for example, used to be a heavily guarded secret as it is believed to be responsible for the Stuxnet cyber-attack that sabotaged the Iranian nuclear program.

Having received superior training in cybersecurity during their service, Israelis leave with a wealth of experience that is further nurtured by the government through programs like CyberSpark, a government initiative that serves as an innovation incubator.

Whilst at such government-backed support networks, Israelis are given the tools and encouragement needed to become entrepreneurs and develop new solutions of their own. 

Furthermore, vast angel funding networks are available to citizens. Successful Israeli cyber entrepreneurs that have gone to Silicon Valley and since returned then go on to mentor and financially back young start-ups. 

It is clear that the ‘Israeli model’ delivers – currently there are more than 400 active cybersecurity companies in Israel, a country that is no bigger than London as a whole. There are countless successful Israeli cyber companies – take Check Point for example, where CEO Gil Shwed developed the idea while serving in the Unit 8200 of the Israel Défense Forces, working on securing classified networks.

To further strengthen Israel’s cybersecurity credentials, such companies continue to keep business within Israel and invest in other Israeli cyber companies, such as Check Point’s latest acquisition of Dome9.  

Barriers to entry
While Britain is undoubtedly experienced at inventing technology solutions, there is a clear lack of funding and mentoring, resulting in UK cyber start-ups and SMEs in general encountering multiple roadblocks in order to grow today. 

With a vast amount of government bodies, all of which relay the same message as each other, it is incredibly challenging for them to know exactly who to talk to. This is exacerbated by the plethora of funding networks, which not only are competing among themselves, but also place huge pressure on prospects to produce a return on investment. 

It is also important to remember that the government cannot be held solely responsible for financially backing and supporting UK cyber start-ups, the load must be shared. Admittedly there are a handful of worthy angel investors, venture capital and private equity firms, though there a distinct lack of quality and sense of “national pride” influence to drive the success witnessed by the Israeli model.   

Furthermore, the success of the Israeli model is grounded by the mandatory education Israel provides its citizens at a young age, inspiring them to take an active interest in the field. Should the UK aim to reach the same levels of success, developing a passion for cyber among young Brits is vital.

Government backed initiatives like the Cyber Schools Programme, which aims to have at least 5,700 teenagers participating in the program by 2021 to develop cybersecurity skills, are a great first step to ensuring Britain remains in contention for being a major cybersecurity player.

Until such measures are put in place where the government reduces friction on funding available, as well as provides much needed support and encouragement to UK cyber start-ups, Britain will continue to lag behind Israel and the rest of the world in terms of innovation. 

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