How AI and international alliances will shape the future of cybersecurity

by Claire Polansky

How can we protect our national security and/or our daily lives from cyber threats? That’s the question that Israeli cybersecurity startups are asking as they explore international alliances.

Turn on your computer screen and scroll through this weeks news. You’ll see a whole host of “who’s watching who” conspiracies fit for a Netflix crime drama. The perpetrator/victim musical chairs on the internet might make you think that collaborations are impossible.

The first thing that you might see is the neverending Trump/Putin saga. It’s a game of “information warfare” for political ties and disputes via state-backed media, paid internet “trolls,” and other cybercrimes.

Then we have the mask-faced Anonymous Hacktivists protesting against the latest government operation, entertainment venue, big corporates, or religious institution through Denial of Service Attacks (DDOS). Anonymous members are painted as heroes or villains, depending on the political leaning of the news source and the victim. You could call them the “Robin Hoods of the internet” or anarchist cyber terrorists. One minute they go after Daesh (ISIS), the next minute they coordinate an anti-Zionist #OpIsrael cyber attack on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). Needless to say, their role in cyber terrorism is a bit hazy.

But these are just small fries compared to Iran’s “soft war” with the United States, Israel, and Russia. This ultimately lead to the first known cyber weapon, Stuxnet zero-day attacks on Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant, which Israel has been blamed for. But regardless of who the players are in this cyberwar, one thing is clearn. The anty is up.

So how can we even begin to consider potential threats as potential allies?

Who’s watching who?

Let’s take a closer look at Kaspersky Labs for insight into the complexity of international cyber warfare.

Over 15 of Iran’s uranium centrifuges were destroyed with a malicious computer worm via Kaspersky Lab’s antivirus software in Russia. Kaspersky Labs found similarities between Stuxnet and Duqu 2.0 attacks on prime Israeli targets in 2015. But it gets a bit hairy. Wired tells us that the perpetrators took cover directly inside the security firm in order to siphon intelligence about nation-state attacks.

To complicate things further, a Russian operation obtained classified information from a National Security Agency employee who errantly stored them on a personal computer containing Kaspersky’s antivirus software. Israel reportedly alerted the United States about Russian intrusion into their government networks through the software. The government took measures to remove the software due to concerns about its potential use as a backdoor for Russian intelligence.

Since then, the lab has uncovered multiple nation-state attacks including Stuxnet, Duqu, Flame, Gauss, Regin, and the Equation Group — all associated with the US, UK, and Israel.

Kapersky Lab denied government cyber-espionage efforts. Likewise, the National Security Agency, the White House, the Russian Embassy, and the Israeli Embassy kept silent.

But who knows?

As the New York Times put it, we have spies watching spies watching spies in an ongoing cyberwar of the worlds.

“Presently, there is no longer a need for bombardment; instead the enemy can be crippled by conducting cyberwars and affecting critical systems,”  Iranian Fourth Esfahan Combat Airbase Commander Norbakhsh Baheri announced at an opening of a digital cultural center in Esfahan. “Instead of teaching young groups to use weapons we must train them on computers and in the principles of cyber warfare.”

This is a case of brains over brawns in modern day war and peace.

Why would Israel Forge International Alliances?

After reading about cases of espionage and deception, you might wonder why Israel would get involved in NATO-like cyber-allegiances. But why not offer a pay-it-forward model as a potential peace initiative?

With the growing need for cybersecurity solutions for all things digital, collaborations might be the answer for global peace as we all attempt to protect our businesses as human safety. The talent from Israel’s elite military programs like 8200 and leading academic institutions have what it takes to lead Israel out of war and into peace. In a world where our business is our power, this is our shield.

Israel and the United States have long-since maintained an international alliance. The U.S. supports rocket defense systems such as the Iron Dome and David’s Sling while gleaning knowledge from Israel to strengthen their own cyber intelligence. As of late, Intel has agreed to partner with Team8, a cybersecurity think-tank for cyber startups.

But the United States is not the only one partnering with Israel.

The Israeli National Cyber Bureau is joining forces with Japan’s counterpart in order to help Japan prepare for cyber threats during the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Thus far, CheckPoint, Verint, Bynet, ECI, Cyber X, and ClearSky are onboard to establish the Israeli Cyber Companies Consortium.  In turn, they can hopefully contribute their own innovative insights into cybersecurity as Israel advances Internet of Things (IoT) technology with international products.

Ori Bar-Chaim,  Director General at Regional Branch of Custodio Pte. Ltd — a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Camila Edry, Department Manager of Cyber Centers at Cyber Directorate believe that this consortium “offers a solution that includes a center for early warnings on a national level that enables for monitoring of a variety of regulated organizations and critical infrastructures.”

These ties are no-brainers. Israel has had a long-standing neutral relationship with these countries.

But now former Knesset member and tech entrepreneur Erel Margalit is pushing for Israel to take their global ties one step further through a cyber-protection alliance NATO.”  He asserted at the 2018 Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv that citizens and infrastructures are compromised due to the lack of tight collaboration between democratic countries— as well as government and private enterprises. Thus he proposed a US, Europe, and Mediterranean emergency response structure with collaborative teams.

“Together we stand and divided we are threatened,” he said.

Margalit claimed that Israel is already working with some of its Arab neighbors, including Palestinians. He envisions a WhatsApp-like computer emergency response team (CERTs) in the Mediterranean to include Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, and Palestine. While he doesn’t see certain groups like Iran participating, he believes that borders are largely irrelevant when it comes to cybersecurity. That being said, he proposed multiple regional alliances as well as specific vertical alliances (e.g. automotive, retail, pharmaceuticals, etc).

He ultimately believes that cross-border cooperation is the only way to maintain safety locally and abroad.

Cyber Security Startups of the Future

Israel has been at the forefront of cybersecurity innovation on the global scale for considerable time. When the government trains a bunch of promising renegade youngsters to solve a problem any way they see fit, they will find a way. Thus, they created an $82B industry. And it shows no signs of slowing down. A projected 3.5M jobs by 2021 will be left with empty seats.

The demand becomes stronger as new products sweep the technological ecosystem locally and abroad.

Cross-border collaboration very well could be the next wave of cybersecurity startups.

Israel and the US are already making strides to collaborate. According to Forbes, Thomas Bossert, Assistant to the U.S. President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism introduced a plan for a US-Israeli bilateral cyber working group at the 7th Annual Cybersecurity Conference. But Israel and the US have long-standing partnerships.

Israel is also assisting smaller nations like Singapore in developing their cybersecurity infrastructure as the demand increases.

But what will happen when Israeli cyber intelligence expands global alliances to include unlikely partners, like close neighboring countries with fragile relationships?

This is going to be a unique challenge for the next wave of cybersecurity startups who need to find a find a balance between collaboration and protection.

Incidentally, the Checkpoint Founder/CEO Gil Shwed tells us that cyberspace will be much more unpredictable in the coming years and anyone could be the enemy.

In Swed’s words, “In the coming ten years, nation-sponsored organizations will continue to develop cyber-attack technologies for defense and offense; financially driven criminal groups will continue to seek ways to monetize cyber-attacks; hacktivists will continue to use cyber to convey their messages; terrorist groups will also shift to cyberspace; and finally – people with no apparent motive, who seek to demonstrate their technical skills, will continue “contributing” to the attacker ecosystem.”

So how do cybersecurity professionals prepare and collaborate simultaneously? You might think that this will be an ongoing game of spies, watching spies, watching spies?

But Shwed believes that humans will not be able to keep up with the vast amount of information coming at them in cyberspace anyway. He tells us that there will be a point when artificial intelligence (AI) will need to take over.

He explained, “We are accessible from every point of the globe, and it was already demonstrated that any attacker can have access to “strategic weapons” that don’t require the infrastructure or the cost of conventional weapons. Last but not least, many cyber-attacks are run automatically by “bots” that scan the entire network and find the weakest spot, so we won’t need to look like an “attractive target”. We simply need to have a vulnerable point. Yes, we are all targets.”

With all this in mind, it is quite likely that a wave of AI cybersecurity solutions that interplay with biometric solutions (e.g., fingerprint, facial, iris recognition) in real-time will mitigate some of the potential hazards from cross-border collaboration. But there will still be vulnerabilities with each wave of technology.

AI’s use of Machine Learning (ML) to adapt over time to additions and changes may supersede the human judgment. Cross-border business relationships can continue to grow. Meanwhile, the computer will alert the user to red flags that deviate from the norm–even if the personal relationships appear benign.

CEO/Cofounder of Wandera Eldar Tuvey pointed out that humans sleep, but computers don’t . “Within the use case of cyber security there are millions of potential combinations of irregularities to detect, and humans simply do not have the time or capacity to check every single one. But a computer does.” Tuvey said.

While the computers are at play monitoring every nook and cranny at every hour, humans can do what they do best. Cybersecurity professionals can focus on building the human to human connection. And that in and of itself might be the best plan for security.

The truth is, everyone is a potential ally and a potential threat when it comes to cybersecurity So it’s just a matter of hoping for the best while planning for the worst.

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Author: Claire Polansky

I am a Jill-of-all-trades marcom specialist and high tech autodidact. I stay upstream with the rapidly moving high tech scene by excessively reading anything and everything. When I am not reading or writing, you can find me with my dogs on the beach basking in the Mediterranean sun.

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