UK’s head of cybersecurity speaks of vital partnership with Israel

What happened: This week the head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) used her first international speech to emphasise the importance of the UK-Israeli partnership to counter shared cyber threats.

  • Speaking at the annual Cyber Week hosted by Tel Aviv University, Lindy Cameron, described Israel as “a central part of the global cyber eco-system … we are absolutely committed to working together to protect our citizens and build confidence in a digital future”.
  • She added: “The UK-Israel cyber security relationship is built on the long-standing ties of an enduring national security alliance. Operational collaboration between our agencies – and many other agencies represented at this conference – is strong and well developed. It focuses on exchanges of threat reporting and analysis of trends, something I am pleased to say continued successfully throughout the challenge of COVID.”
  • Cameron highlighted the recent translation into Hebrew of the Software Security Knowledge Area of the UK’s Cyber Security Body of Knowledge as practical examples of how the bilateral relationship could have an immediate impact on improving each country’s cyber knowledge and understanding.
  • Speaking at the same event Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a former CEO of an Israeli cybersecurity company, announced a new initiative called the “Global Cybernet Shield,” which he said would use the “principles of connectivity” Israel uses for cyber defence internally, but on an international level for a “real-time network defence”.

Context: Bennett said he views cyberattacks as one of the greatest threats not only to Israel’s national security, but to that of the world.

  • The Cyber Innovation Arena in Be’er Sheva is the central hub of Israeli cyber-tech, including Israel’s National Cyber Directorate (INCD).
  • According to Aviram Atzaba, INCD executive director of strategy and international cooperation, Israel developed its Cybernet system several years ago, in which over 1,500 organisations, including major Israeli companies, government ministries and more, share information about cyber-attacks. Companies send warnings to the directorate, which anonymises the messages and sends them to all the network’s members.
  • Lindy Cameron explained how The Cyber Innovation Arena has severed as one of the inspirations for Cyber Central, the first part of the UK’s ‘Golden Valley’ development – which will be based in Cheltenham, the home to the NCSC’s parent organisation, GCHQ.
  • She said Cyber Central will be a hive of industry collaboration, ranging from tech giants to start-ups as well as academia and government. It aims to be the primary UK hub for cyber-related activity, and one of the most prominent clusters globally.
  • The cyber event comes in a week in which several Israeli cyber companies have come under intense public scrutiny for their alleged involvement in spying on journalists, politicians and human rights activists.
  • One of the firms, NSO, has pushed back against claims that it sold its phone-hacking technology purposely to governments that intended to use the software illegally. NSO CEO Shalev Hulio told Israeli media: “We choose our clients meticulously, and we sign very strong agreements with them that allow us — if we find that any abuses were made — to cut them off from the system. There were five clients we cut off from the system in the past few years.”
  • Hulio described NSO’s technology as “life-saving software,” and said that there was no alternative to using it to fight serious crime and terrorism in a world with encrypted communications. He added that NSO had refused to sell its products to 90 countries around the world for fear that they might make improper use of them.
  • Israeli technology is also widely recognised by the UK’s private sector. By 2018, 337 Israeli high-tech companies operated in the UK, an increase of 60 per cent over the 5 years prior. A senior UK official quoted in the 2018 BICOM report, UK-Israel relations after Brexit: cyber security, said: “If I were a UK company with big cyber exposure, I would be troubled if I was not making use of Israeli tech and expertise.”

Looking ahead: This week, MK Ram Ben Barak, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, commented on the NSO issue: “We will review this whole matter of giving licenses. It must be honestly admitted, their programmes exposed a great many terrorist cells and helped a great many people. If it did something wrong, this is something we have to check.”

  • Israel has appointed an inter-ministerial team, including representatives from the defence ministry, ministry of justice, foreign ministry, military intelligence and the Mossad – the national intelligence agency – that will “conduct its checks, and we will be sure to look into the findings and see if we need to fix things here,” Ben Barak said.

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