Facing common concerns about the threat of cyber-terrorism and cyber-warfare, representatives of high-tech American and Israeli firms held a matchmaking session in Newark in search of new business partners and new ways to protect computer systems from attack.
They were brought together in Newark on Jan. 30 by the BIRD Foundation, which helps fund, promote, and support industrial projects of shared benefit to the United States and Israel.
At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, scientists and engineers from 80 American and Israeli firms listened as representatives from small technology firms took turns explaining their own contributions to beefing up cyber-security. They spoke of maintaining and upgrading computer security, designing secure computer “architecture,” and applying military systems to commercial enterprises.
Some of them were seeking grants from the BIRD (Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development) Foundation, which will offer funding of up to $1 million to U.S. and Israeli companies that jointly develop and commercialize innovative technologies.
“Every project we approve we have to see mutual benefit,” said Eitan Yudilevich, executive director of the foundation, which was established by the U.S. and Israeli governments in 1977. “This is not an Israeli organization; this is an organization that works for the mutual benefit of the U.S. and Israel.”
Nili Shalev, Israel’s economic minister to North America, said the main goal of the effort “is to find the right partners for Israeli companies, and we also service companies which want to do business in Israel. I think this area of cyber-security is one of the more relevant areas of collaboration.”
Donald Sebastian, senior vice president for research and development at NJIT, welcomed the participants. “Up until the tragic events of the Twin Towers attack, we lived in a bubble of invulnerability. We are now suddenly learning what our friends in Israel have grown up with — that attacks have to be dealt with in a systematic, efficient way,” he said. “We need the infusion of technologies so we can keep up with those challenges.”
Additional sponsors of the event included NJIT’s Innovation Acceleration Center, the NJ-Israel Commission, Israel’s Economic Mission to North America, Rutgers University, and the EisnerAmper accountancy firm.
Leonard Cole, chair of the NJ-Israel Commission’s Homeland Security Committee, cited both a British defense expert and an Israeli intelligence officer in calling cyber-warfare “the most revolutionary event in warfare history since the invention of gunpowder by the Chinese in the year 850.”
Cole said there is a need “for all of us in this society along with our Israeli counterparts, who are in the forefront of vulnerability and also expertise, in trying to initiate responses.”
His words were underscored in a short greeting by Edward Dickson, director of the NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
“Cyber is the number one security threat, surpassing terrorism,” he warned. “It is a dynamic, persistent threat, and here in New Jersey we are ripe for those attacks against state government, against our research facilities, or against our private businesses.”
Fred Roberts, a professor of mathematics at Rutgers who studies homeland security, connected the Super Bowl and other sporting events to cyber-terrorism.
“Imagine all of these large stadiums run their emergency messaging systems through electronic message boards and public address announcements. Imagine how you could create an emergency evacuation situation. You could have the security cameras, the escalators, and the lighting systems go out and not come back on…. It is really interesting to see how few of the stadiums are really unaware of the vulnerability of their cyber-physical systems,” he said.
Following the meeting, Yudilevich told NJ Jewish News that cyber-security “is a very serious issue for both the U.S. and Israel. The military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel has been there forever. The issue now is how we deal with the infrastructure of such things as financial institutions and a smart grid for electrical utilities.
“There are many solutions that can be brought by cooperating at the level of academic research and commercial collaboration.”
A good deal of “successful” networking went on at the event, said Andrea Yonah, the BIRD Foundation’s East Coast representative. “I’ve gotten very good feedback from people telling me the day was productive, and they made good connections.”