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Israeli cybersecurity boom 'sustainable', argues industry’s father

Pipelines are improving but discrimination is still a problem

Israel cyber week The "father" of Israel's cybersecurity industry reckons the unprecedented growth in its security startup industry can be sustained.

Isaac Ben Israel, who heads the Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC) at Tel Aviv University, estimates there are 400 cybersecurity firms in Israel. Together with more established security firms such as Check Point and CyberArk, these vendors rake in 10 per cent of the global market, or $6.5bn per annum.

“The figure was four times smaller five years ago,” Prof Ben Israel told reporters at the start of the Israel Cyber Week conference. This is “sustainable” and “not a bubble” in part because new challenges such as automobile security are coming around the corner.

Service in the Israeli Defence Forces is mandatory for most young Israelis and this is commonly providing the foundation of the country's expertise in information security, in particular. Teenagers get responsibility early as well as the opportunity to develop skills and contacts that serve them well in later business life.

“[Business and technology] ideas come from the military instead of the usual case where ideas came from university,” Professor Ben Israel, a retired IDF major general, explained.

There is a widely acknowledged global shortage in skilled cyber-security practitioners. Israel isn’t immune from this, though its education system helps.

“Israel is the only country where you can choose cybersecurity in high school,” according to Prof Ben Israel.

UK government delegates to the Cyber Week conference said they were so impressed by the success of Israeli’s cybersecurity eco-system that they were looking to steal applicable ideas. That translates to centres of excellence in universities and investment in STEM teaching earlier on in schools rather than the introduction of national service, of course.

However, some Israelis note that the country’s cybersecurity skills pipeline is not without its faults even at its much-praised foundation stages, where girls are encouraged to study STEM subjects by giving them early exposure to captivating topics such as space science and robotics.

Yanki Margalit, chairman of SpaceIL, a non-profit space technology organisation competing for the Google Lunar X Prize as well a partner in Innodo, a seed investment fund, said that the school programme for kids is still heavily weighted towards farming and religious studies. This means future success in turning out teenagers with the right skills is far from assured.

Wealth inequality within Israel remains another issue liable to hold back economic progress, he added.

Others have separately noted that access to education and employment discrimination against Arab-Israelis (and, of course, Palestinians) are also problems. Israel’s frequently vaunted startup nation culture doesn’t seem to extend to the Arab portion of its population – certainly if the attendance and exhibitors at Cyber Week are any guide. ®

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