Cyberspace presents many threats but also significant opportunities, according to Rami Efrati, one of the founding members and former head of the Civilian Division of the Israel National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office and present director of Firmitas Cyber Solutions.
Describing how Israel managed to turn cyberattacks into business opportunities, Efrati urges the Greek authorities to invest in creating an ecosystem that will halt the phenomenon of talented young people feeling forced to leave the country.
On the occasion of his visit to Greece for the Economist Conference on Cyberspace, Efrati spoke to Kathimerini about the “security culture” cultivated in Israel through education. He also pointed out that the key to addressing cyber challenges is the dissemination of information and know-how among trusted partners, while outlining the cooperation of Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the United States in the security sector.
A positive example
In recent years Israel has managed to build a very interesting economic and technological ecosystem that is mainly based on startups and investments in cybersecurity. What is your national strategy?
Israel is a unique country because there are plenty of people around us who, to put it kindly, do not like us very much, so we become the target of either conventional or digital attacks. So we take cyberattacks very seriously, including cyber in our national security strategy since 2003. Since then, the country has achieved a lot and although it is currently one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world and cyberspace, vital infrastructure has not been affected. However, the most important step for Israel was the understanding that nobody was actually protecting the citizens, the financial institutions and the health and transport services. Despite the political decisions that needed to be taken, we have turned cybersecurity into a business opportunity. Today, more than 450 companies and startups deal with cybersecurity and generate billions in revenues in the country. Israel was soon transformed from a “startup country” into a “state of cyberspace.” In cooperation with the Finance and Foreign ministries, we have found new financial platforms to support cyber businesses. The government is aware of the risk of such investments, as 95 percent of startups fail, but it looks at the positive side, that 5 percent of those who succeed will stay in Israel and the state will receive the taxes. I believe that Greece can pursue that same strategy in order to reverse the departure of its talented young people abroad. To reverse the brain drain that has been affecting your country in recent years.
Israel, Greece, Cyprus and the United States signed a cyber cooperation agreement in December in the framework of already-expanded Greek-Israeli cooperation. How far do you think the relationship between Greece and Israel could go in terms of security issues and what other possible areas of cooperation with Israel do you see?
When we talk about cyberspace, the first thing we have to do with partner countries is to share sensitive information. If someone attacks Israel, we will make sure that Greece is the first country to receive this information, and if we have already found an “antidote” for such an cyberattack, we also need to share the information. Relations between Greece and Israel are excellent, they are evolving, and I can assure you that they will become even closer in the future. After conversations with senior executives in Greece I believe that they recognize the importance of cybersecurity issues. In most cases, they do not have the same experience and know-how that we have, and that is why we need to work together. In cyberspace, moreover, international interconnections are everything. However, I strongly believe that the government and Greek companies must have the first say in terms of cybersecurity. There is a need for planning and a lot of work.
How would you describe the level of security in Greece?
I do not know the level of security in Greece and I do not need to know. However, I hope that the Greek government and prime minister know what the level of security is in their country because it actually concerns the entire ecosystem of Greece and how it works.
What do other countries have to do to guarantee cybersecurity and develop technologies in the industry?
Most importantly, the country must have a cybersecurity strategy, conduct risk analysis and set its priorities straight. That is why special arrangements are required, laws need to be implemented and, of course, the right people have to take on such missions. In this context, we searched for the areas of the Israeli ecosystem that could help us advance this strategy and we realized that such a field is education. The second most important thing is the capital that the government will make available for cybersecurity. Israel, for instance, is investing about 100 million dollars in cybersecurity. One can say that is a lot, but everything is a matter of priorities. We are not here to say what your priority is. Imagine that two of your banks went bankrupt because someone hacked into the system. There would be chaos and the government would be asked to pay 300 million dollars. Why not anticipate it? In addition to supporting the industry and finding dependable partners, it is equally important to create incentives for young people to stay in your country. We want the best to work for us and that’s why we have promoted a financial plan that allows them to work for the government instead of Google or Facebook.
So am I correct in saying that the aim is to change the culture in issues of security?
Exactly. We are not just talking about cyberspace. We need to change the culture. Over the last 10 years, we have brought the issue of cyberspace to universities, and we are starting to talk about these issues to 10-year-olds. We do not aim to make them hackers, but we want them to be aware of what might happen. We hope they will be suspicious when they receive an email or a message on their mobile phone or when they read an article. They do not need to know exactly how it actually works. All they need to know is that fake news exists, for example, and that it can directly affect their lives.