How Israel is rewriting the future of cybersecurity and creating the next Silicon Valley

Cybersecurity in Israel involves a lot more than repelling hackers on the Internet.

While the Israeli Defense Forces are known for their effectiveness and resourcefulness, as you approach the Palmahim Airbase south of Tel Aviv you might be surprised to discover that this is a world-class military facility.

Exiting the highway to a road that is only occasionally paved, there's an abandoned cinderblock facility surrounded by a wire fence with tires and metal objects strewn across the open grassy area. It looks more like something you'd expect in a post-industrial town in Pennsylvania or Ohio than on the base of one of the most high tech fighting forces in the world.

As we drive past the building and head toward our rendezvous, our two IDF handlers turn around and smile and remind us of the rules. The person we're going to meet can only be referred to as "Major S," for safety and security reasons. While our handlers are both young ladies with an air of sweetness and optimism about them, on this point they speak with an unequivocal authority and finality—despite the smiles.

Both are wearing green military fatigues and in the spare moments between their duties as communications reps they are happy to unfold the berets strapped to the shoulders of their uniforms and explain how the colors represent the division of the IDF that they serve. Slender, petite, and energetic, in the U.S. they would likely be preparing for a soccer game or a senior prom. In Israel, the two conscripts are leading a small group of journalists to meet a military officer who runs an operation that protects millions of citizens.

When Major S enters, he looks barely older than the two conscripts. His green uniform is a one-piece flight suit. The sleeves are pushed up his forearms and the zipper on the front is open down to mid-chest, showing a gray t-shirt underneath. His shy smile makes him look even younger. But when his face straightens, it unmasks a care-worn look in his eyes that reflects all the Israelis in constant danger that he must help protect.

 Major S stands in front of a UAV. | Image: Jason Hiner

These kids have old souls.

Major S is the deputy commander of the First UAV Squadron, a division of the Israeli Air Force. Despite his babyface smile, he's actually 30 years old with over a decade of service in the military. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that he manages are the eyes in the sky that keep watch on Israel's borders as well as some of its aggressive neighbors who would love nothing better than to push modern Israel into the sea and pretend it never existed. Israel relies on the UAVs to run at least 50 hours of operations every day, according to Major S. Obviously, that means they are running multiple drones in multiple locations at all times. That's a lot of data.

"The most important thing is to collect information... every day of the year," says Major S.

A UAV hovers at 10,000 feet, he says. "You can't hear it and you can't see it from the ground."

Of course, the cynical view is that Israel uses UAVs to spy on its neighbors and invade their airspace. But, Israel has been facing existential threats from its neighbors since the day the modern State of Israel was founded on May 15, 1948 as a result of a UN resolution. Israel has had a bitter peace with Egypt since 1979. It's had a slightly more cordial peace with Jordan since 1994. Lebanon and Syria remain sworn enemies. And, the country's tenuous relationship with the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) is well known.

For the moment, Gaza is the biggest problem spot. When Israel withdrew its occupying forces from Gaza in 2005, the radical elements of Palestine used it to seize power and have been firing rockets at Israeli cities ever since. Israel has, of course, retaliated and civilians have been caught in the crossfire on both sides, but Israel has been losing the PR war. The Palestinians have done a far better job of publicizing the attacks against them and helping create a narrative in the international media that paints Israel as a callous oppressor.

 Image: IDF

Major S opens his laptop and plays a video from the bird's eye view of the drone. In this case, a UAV has identified a suicide bomber and is tracking it. The UAV operator is communicating with ground forces to intercept it. Just as they are about to pounce on it, the UAV operator frantically interrupts and tells them to wait as he spots Palestinian kids up ahead of where the bomber's vehicle is heading. After it clears the area, we see the IDF vehicles cut off the car bomber and the IDF soldiers jump out and surround the car. A soldier with body armour approaches the suicide bomber in the driver's seat, gets hit with several bullets, but pulls the driver out of the vehicle and the soldiers apprehend him. No harm done.

"In the Gaza Strip there are 1.5 to 2 million people and most of them are not terrorists," says Major S. "They just want to live their lives like me and my family. But our enemies know that and they try to [hide near civilians]."

He shows a couple more videos where disasters were averted and Palestinian and Israeli lives were saved from potential attacks. But, he won't let us publish the videos. He says they have released very few of these to the public in the past and he's always reluctant to allow it, because every video will be studied by terrorists and used to figure out how to evade the UAVs.

His implicit message is that his job is not to feed information to the press to make Israel look more sympathetic to the international community. His job is to protect lives. As polite as he is, it's clear that every moment he spends with us is a moment he's not doing his real job, and he needs to get back to it.

He says there is a warehouse that the UAVs have been continually tracking for three weeks. They know there is "bad stuff" being stored in there. As soon as that stuff starts to move then there's going to be a big problem that will need to be handled. His team is working with Israeli intelligence to make sure it doesn't turn into a tragic incident.

"It's a race. Everybody tries to get more capabilities and better technology." Major S

He walks us out to the hangars where the UAVs are located along with the command stations where the UAV operators run them. The command stations are like a whirlwind marriage between a sit-down arcade video game and a server room.

UAVs are the future, Major S asserts. The Israeli Air Force keeps closing down traditional squadrons and keeps opening new UAV squadrons. He also pointed to the fact the F-35 is the last manned fighter jet that the Americas are going to make. It's an inevitable trend.

"The wars we have today are not the same as what we had 20 years ago," he says. "It's a race. Everybody tries to get more capabilities and better technology."

He gestures toward one of the newest drones. "If everyone is using this, then the one with the best technology wins."

Israel, the innovator

Israel bewilders you with its contrasts and contradictions.

The Old City of Jerusalem mercilessly floods your senses with its history. Whether you seek out its stories or not, this ancient place will not allow you to remain indifferent to the countless millions who across 60 centuries have streamed here in search of answers to big questions.

 The Old City of Jerusalem has a lot of stories to tell. | Image credit: Jason Hiner

Not far away, the modern cities of Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Be'er Sheva pulse with the resistless energy of people searching for answers to smaller questions that fill every day, every hour, every moment.

Israel is a land of mystery, science, faith, reason, tension, and peace. Today, it is most widely known for its long-smoldering geopolitical conflict and its religious sites held sacred by four world faiths. But, the aspect of modern Israel that is having the most significant impact on global civilization in the 21st century often goes under the radar.

Since the rise of the personal computer, Israel has been quietly making major contributions to the technologies that are transforming humanity and giving people tools to solve age-old problems in powerful and exciting news ways. And, these contributions to the global technology ecosystem have accelerated in the past two decades.

Israel was one of the progenitors of the PC revolution in the 1980s when Intel's lab in Haifa designed the 8088 chip that powered the original IBM PC. Intel's Israeli team later created the Pentium chip that helped spread PC computing to the masses.

In the middle of the last decade, Intel's innovators in Israel pushed past objections from their U.S. counterparts and got the company to focus on power-conservation rather than raw speed and delivered the Centrino chip that fueled the growth of laptops. Then the Israelis pioneered multi-core processors to deliver Intel's groundbreaking Core product line that turned Intel around at one of its most difficult moments. Now, it's the Israeli team at Intel that is leading the company's charge into mobile processors.

 Intel's new facility in Haifa sets a high standard for green buildings. | Image: Intel

The world's most important tech companies run Israeli research centers, including Cisco, Microsoft, Google, Apple, IBM, Oracle, SAP, EMC, Motorola, HP, Facebook, and eBay. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously said that Microsoft was an Israeli company almost as much as an American company since Microsoft has so many workers in Israel and the work they are doing is so important to the company's future.

Intel and IBM opened research centers in Israel in the 1970s and hired lots of Israeli engineers. More often, tech giants have bolstered their presence in Israel by acquiring startups. Cisco alone has purchased at least 10 Israeli startups (that we know about), including Intucell in January 2013 for $475 million. In July 2013, Google bought the popular Waze mapping software for $1 billion, shining an even brighter spotlight on Israeli startups.

Israel has been dubbed "The Startup Nation" because it has the highest density of startups per capita in the world—one for every 1,844 citizens (or 2.5 times the U.S. rate). More Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ than from all European companies combined. Israel ranks third in the world for venture capital availability and second in the world in the availability of qualified scientists and engineers. Yet, this is a tiny country with roughly the same land mass as New Jersey.

The story of how this undersized, continually-threatened nation of 7.5 million people—less than the population of New York City—has become one of the pre-eminent players in the tech world is complicated. Plenty of journalists, researchers, and government officials from across the globe have probed this issue and argued with each other about the genesis of Israel's technological success.

The influx of technically-savvy Russian immigrants in 1990s played a big part. Conscription of young Israelis into the entrepreneurial ethos of the IDF was an important factor. Facing continual geopolitical conflicts created the confidence to solve problems that others deemed impossible. The fact that many of Israel's founders were scientists and intellectuals certainly laid the groundwork for placing a high cultural value on technology. But, above all, the fact that Israel is such a small country with limited resources confronting multiple simultaneous threats means it must rely on better tools and automation and ingenuity in order to survive.

In one sense, Israel is defined and bolstered by threats against it.

That's also how Israel has created such a center of excellence around cybersecurity. The combination of the country's perpetual concern with defense and its technological prowess have turned cybersecurity into one of its most important exports. In 2013 alone, IBM, Cisco, and GE have all made large acquisitions or investments in Israeli cybersecurity companies. And, because of the new security and privacy issues being raised by the spread of cloud computing, that trend is very likely to accelerate.

The economic anchor

September 3, 2013 opened a new chapter in the history of the tech industry and cybersecurity in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the inauguration of the Advanced Technology Park on the campus of Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva.

"Today we are launching the economic anchor that will turn Be'er Sheva into a national and international center for cybernetics and cybersecurity," Netanyahu said at the opening ceremony. "This is a day that will change the history of the State of Israel and we are doing it here in Be'er Sheva."

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center right) cuts the ribbon inaugurating the ATP. | Credit: BGU

Culturally, geographically, and technically, things had been leading up to this critical event for a long time. In fact, some of the seeds were planted all the way back at the birth of modern Israel by the country's first prime minister. Nevertheless, this has the signs of a historical turning point written all over it—groundbreaking cooperation among powerful forces, coalescing resources, economic gravitas, and impeccable timing.

ATP creates a symbiotic relationship between three potent entities:
1. Academia
2. Tech companies
3. The Israeli Defense Forces

Where the magic is expected to happen is in co-locating these three onto adjacent campuses where they can collaborate on projects, share data, and feed each other's needs for talent, resources, and thought leadership.

"This is a day that will change the history of the State of Israel and we are doing it here in Be'er Sheva." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The ribbon-cutting on September 3 marked the official opening of Building #1 of the ATP. This is where the tech industry is taking up residence in a commercial park that will consist of 16 buildings on 23 acres, including office space, labs, a hotel, and a conference center. The ATP is connected to the main campus of BGU by a new walking bridge, with a new train station running right between them so that it can easily whisk scholars, professionals, and soldiers from Be'er Sheva to Tel Aviv, the current technology capital of the country.

The first tenants of Building #1 include tech industry stalwarts Deutsche Telekom, EMC, RSA, and Oracle, as well as three incubators—Jerusalem Venture Partner's CyberLabs, Elbit Incubit, and BGN Technologies (a BGU entity that commercializes academic research). Venture capital firms are in negotiations to take up residence in Building #2, which is currently in development and will open in early 2015.

One of BGU's key catalysts in bridging the gap between academia and industry is its commercialization arm, BGN Technologies, which uses a unique model for what it calls "technology transfer." That is the way that the university takes valuable breakthroughs and brings them to market by partnering with a company or selling the company a patent. BGN Technologies has signed agreements with over 150 companies, including ExxonMobile, Johnson & Johnson, Siemens, and General Motors. BGN Technologies has been so successful at this that universities from the U.S. and Europe are studying their approach.

"Our model is that we have no model, which is the strength of it." Dr. Moti Herskowitz on BGU's approach to commercializing tech research

Dr. Orna Berry, corporate vice president at EMC, said, "Normally, researchers do not have good business understanding, so matching researchers with businesses is really the job of [BGN Technologies] and I think they are doing a fantastic job... They go beyond what a commercialization office at a university normally does."

Dr. Moti Herskowitz, BGU's Dean of Research and Development, said that when it comes to technology transfer, U.S. universities tend to want to own everything and then sell the rights, and so they don't sell very much.

"Our model is that we have no model," said Herskowitz, "which is the strength of it. We deal with it case by case."

 Building #1 of the ATP opened Sept. 3. It is the first of 16 commercial buildings. | Image: BGU

Netta Cohen, CEO of BGN Technologies, which is wholly owned by BGU but operates as an independent business, said that academia and industry have different goals, different languages, and different cultures. BGN Technologies exists to translate and put together deals. Some companies simply want to buy the rights to develop a technology. Others want to do a joint venture and create a new corporation. Others want BGU to function as their R&D and then the company simply brings the product to market. Thus, BGN Technologies treats every agreement like a "tailored suit" said Cohen. And, it's working. BGU now generates 16% of its research income from the industry agreements negotiated by BGN Technologies. In the U.S., universities generate an average of 7% from industry deals.

BGU expects its numbers to to accelerate with the launch of the ATP.

Dr. Rikva Carmi, BGU President, said, "We are already leaders, but... the fact that leading high tech companies are going to dwell across the street from us is definitely going to boost it very, very much... This is the only place in Israel where there is such an intimate relationship between the industry and academia, and actually an on-going collaborative project. There are relationships with the industry at other universities but it is not like [having] one campus. For our purposes, the ATP and the university is one campus."

"For our purposes, the ATP and the university is one campus." BGU President Rikva Carmi

As a university, BGU has long been overshadowed as an epicenter of Israeli technology by Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Weizmann Institute of Science near Tel Aviv, and the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in Haifa. Partly, this is due to the fact that Technion (1912), Hebrew University (1918), and Weizmann (1934) have had decades of a head start on BGU, founded in 1969. Part of it is also due to geography. Weizmann, Hebrew, and Technion are located in Israel's three largest and most developed cities—Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, respectively.

Tel Aviv is currently Israel's undisputed tech capital. In fact, The Wall Street Journal has called it "Europe's main technology hub." With a population of 400,000, Tel Aviv is twice the size of Be'er Sheva and is home to over 1200 high tech companies and 700 early-stage startups. About two-thirds of all seed stage startups in Israel are currently located in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. However, if there's one thing that the ATP threatens to change more than anything else, it is moving the nexus of the Israeli tech community 70 miles southwest to Be'er Sheva.

 Tel Aviv and Be'er Sheva: Tech hot spots. | Image: Jason Hiner

A big part of that is due to the other force multiplier connected to the launch of the ATP: The new IDF Technology Campus will sit directly next to the commercial buildings of the ATP and will have its own connecting walkway to the campus. There, it will become the new home for the IDF's elite technology units, which will be relocating and centralizing in Be'er Sheva. This will include 5,000 professional staff and cyber soldiers from the IDF's Center of Computing and Information Systems. The vast majority of these jobs will be migrating from Tel Aviv.

According to Carmi, these IDF units will be focused on a combination of traditional cybersecurity plus analyzing data from Israel's borders and sensors that relay information on both physical and digital security. A major component of the IDF's plan involves building a facility that paves the way for collaboration with academia and industry.

"It's not going to look like an army barracks," said Carmi. "It's not even going to have a fence. It's a virtual fence."

Cybersecurity prowess

Ben Gurion University has been quietly developing cybersecurity prowess for a decade. It has also been laying the groundwork for the kind of public-private collaboration that is the foundation of the ATP. The stimulus, in both cases, has been a partnership with Deutche Telekom, which came to BGU looking for an ally to collaborate on tech research.

In 2004, the German telecommunications giant created Telekom Innovation Laboratories (called "T-Labs") and chose BGU as an affiliate to focus on security. T-Labs also opened three labs in Germany and a Silicon Valley Innovation Center in Mountain View, California.

"We have a very good model," said BGU President Carmi. "Deutche Telekom is a very successful collaboration between industry and academia. It has been part of our university for almost 10 years and the kind of students and startups that have come out of this collaboration are really amazing. The whole field of cybersecurity that we are now leading in Israel was actually developed based on this project with Deutche Telekom."

Today, BGU has 20 students (18 graduate students and 2 post-graduate students) working in its Telekom Innovation Laboratories. BGU now offers a masters degree in cybersecurity (technically in Information Systems Engineering with a specialty in Cybersecurity). This graduate degree is closely intertwined with the work for Telekom Innovation Laboratories.

Much of the research that BGU is doing as part of T-Labs focuses on the most important security issues in the tech world today—especially social media and mobile computing. But, Deutche Telekom will sometimes come to BGU with specific questions.

 The ATP is across a walking bridge from BGU and next to the new IDF Tech Campus. | Image: BGU

"We were asked by Deutche Telekom to analyze Android to tell whether it is secure," said Dr. Yuval Elovici, Director of BGU's Deutsche Telekom Laboratories and a Professor in BGU's Department of Information Systems Engineering. Dr. Elovici's team of graduate students concluded that Android was "relatively secure." One of the big weaknesses they pinpointed was that Android updates can be used to hijack a device or inject code.

His team has largely discovered: "Any mobile phone today can be attacked and compromised," said Elovici. "They are many, many ways to compromise it."

However, their research also revealed that crowdsourcing information from mobile devices could be used for the public good. For example, the gyroscope motion detector in the iPhone is sensitive and accurate enough to detect earthquakes. If enough iPhone users in earthquake zones opted in to a service, then it could rapidly create a low-cost early detection system.

Where Elovici's team has made its biggest contribution is in the security and privacy issues surrounding social media.

"We were asked by Deutche Telekom to analyze Android to tell whether it is secure." Yuval Elovici, Professor of Information Systems Engineering

"We are very, very concerned about the issue of privacy," said Elovici.

His BGU graduate students have been digging deep on the privacy issues of social networks for several years, since before Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin became so ubiquitous. Of course, that makes their research more relevant now than ever.

One of their big discoveries is how much data can be discovered about a person over the web even if they have a tightly-controlled social profile or don't participate in social networks at all. Age, education, main interests, and other important facts can be derived fairly quickly based on your friends on social networks (or simply by knowing who a few of your close real-world friends are, if you don't have a profile on social networks, and then data mining their information on social networks).

"Our control of our profile isn't in our hands any more," said Elovici. "It's in the hands of our friends."

This research was published but it was pulled from the web because it was so controversial. It was feared that the information could be more useful to bad guys trying to perpetrate these acts than by average users to protect themselves. Now, they are exploring a system that people could connect to that could keep them from being profiled so easily.

"The risk from pedophiles is even stronger," Elovici said. "There are people who are creating fake profiles and connecting to teenagers and then selling them to pedophiles."

 This future rendition of the ATP shows Building #1 plus the rest of the buildings filled in. | Image: BGU

BGU's research concluded that 5%-10% of Facebook profiles are fake and these fake profiles are often being used for nefarious purposes, especially by pedophiles and occasionally by agents of industrial espionage. This project was led by one of the program's star grad students, Michael Fire, along with two undergraduate students.

The students not only pinpointed the problem, but they coded a solution. In 2012, they created the Social Privacy Protector, which functions as a Firefox Add-on or a Facebook app (for any browser). It scans your friends list in Facebook and based on the "connectedness" algorithm that the BGU students devised it then flags potentially-suspicious accounts that you have friended. You can then either restrict the information they can see about you or defriend them.

Fire, who is a Ph.D student in Information Systems Engineering, said, "While Facebook encourages connecting with as many people as possible, we advocate limiting users, and have, for the first time, provided an algorithm to scientifically determine who to remove from friend lists... An important feature of our app is the ability for parents to better protect their kids' privacy with just one click instead of having to navigate the more complicated Facebook privacy settings."

Beyond mobile devices and social networks, the BGU researchers involved with Telekom Innovation Laboratories are also tackling Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), honeytokens and more. If you look at the work that BGU has already done in this one public-private partnership with Deutche Telekom then you can understand why they are so bullish about getting a whole fleet of tech industry giants located across the street. And then, next to that is going to be all of the top technical talent of the Israeli Defense Forces, ready to collaborate in order to find solutions to impossible problems and push Israel's technical advantage farther and faster.

Rise of the Negev

Israelis treasure a biblical verse in Isaiah 35:1-2 that predicts: "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing."

Israel's founding father and first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, who was far more pragmatic than spiritual, nevertheless kept a copy of this verse on his desk. To Ben Gurion, this prophecy encapsulated the hope and the possibilities of Israel's Negev desert. He believed science would unlock those secrets and create those opportunities. He even did a little bit of future forecasting of his own.

 The natural beauty of the Negev desert can surprise you. | Image: Jason Hiner

Ben Gurion predicted, "The South will be at the center of Israel's activity and concern. Only in these areas is there a little open space, totally absent in the North, and there is room for additional extensive settlement based on agriculture and pasture as well as on workshops, mines and industry... Only researchers and scientists who live within the gates of the Negev ... will succeed in revealing what is concealed in the bosom of the earth, and the Dead Sea. They will study the blessings of the sky and the sun and the uppermost air which shower endless treasures of energy, dew, winds and beneficial rays which go to waste because we do not yet know how to utilize them to make the wilderness blossom."

Named after the nation's first prime minister, Ben Gurion University of the Negev is the school's official title. Even most of the locals shorten it to Ben Gurion University or BGU, so it's easy to overlook the fact that the Negev remains one of BGU's greatest geographical and political assets—and one of its most defining characteristics.

Be'er Sheva, where BGU is based, sits on the northern edge of the Negev, but serves as its cultural and administrative capital. It's a biblical city (sometimes called "Beersheba") with connections to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When the UN divided up Israel and Palestine in 1948, Be'er Sheva was actually part of the Palestinian territory. However, during the proceeding Arab-Israeli War of 1948, the Israeli Defense Forces defeated the Egyptian Army in Be'er Sheva and it has been a Jewish city ever since. In fact, there are so few Arabs left in the city that Be'er Sheva's traditional mosque has been converted into the archeological museum of the Negev, despite legal objections from some of the Muslim citizens in Israel.

Today, Be'er Sheva has a population of 200,000 and is one of Israel's fastest growing cities. Meanwhile, outside of Be'er Sheva, there are about 170,000 semi-nomadic Arab bedouin who roam the Negev. It is a stark contrast between a rapidly-advancing modern civilization and a traditional culture that feels increasingly threatened about its future. Nevertheless, there are also now bedouin students attending BGU as well.

The Negev as a whole is the hottest region in Israel, both literally and figuratively.

It comprises Israel's southern desert and it has a completely different character than the coastal towns of Tel Aviv and Haifa or the Jerusalem plateau. As you drive from those northern cities with their cypress trees, sloping hills, and ample ground cover and pass into the Negev with its rocky terrain, craggy mountains, and sparse vegetation, there's no doubt that you have passed from one place into another. The color change from green to brown is unmistakable. The Negev is a desert, but it's not the kind with blowing sand dunes like you see in the movies. It's more like an ancient gravel driveway, stretching and rippling in every direction. If that sounds ominous and undesirable, then the untamed beauty of the Negev can surprise you.

The Negev represents 60% of the land mass of Israel, but is home to only 9% of the population. It is an arid climate that averages only 8 inches of rainfall per year, but the Israelis have turned the Negev into the only desert in the world that is currently receding. Using a combination of high-tech and low-tech research and best practices, Israel has taken advantage of the benefits of the desert while making it a more productive and hospital place to live. Israel has changed grazing patterns of animals, adopted ancient Nabataean farming techniques for growing crops in areas with minimal rainfall, and become a world leader in solar energy research. Israel now reuses over 70% of the country's waste water (mostly then reused for farming the arid land), more than any other country in the world. In second place is Spain, which reuses 17%. The U.S. reuses 1%.

 BGU has 20,000 students. | Image: Jason Hiner

Despite the fact that David Ben Gurion and other politicians have been calling the Negev "the future of the country" for over 60 years, the Israeli people have been slow to migrate to the region. Until recently, Be'er Sheva felt too provincial and remote to tempt many citizens of the developed cities of the north to relocate to the desert. However, the city of Be'er Sheva has created cultural momentum over the past decade by developing the arts, theater, libraries, and culinary diversity. This has been funded in part by American Jews who have embraced the vision of the Negev and used their philanthropy to help fund the expansion of BGU and Be'er Sheva.

Over three decades ago, David Ben Gurion put his money where his mouth was and moved to the Negev in 1970 after he retired from public life. Now that the national government, the Israeli Defense Forces, and the technology industry have fully bought into the future of the Negev, the region is expecting explosive economic and population growth over the next decade. The population of the Negev is projected to double to 1.2 million in 2025.

That's another part of the motivation for the ATP. Carmi said, "The basic idea for the park is to provide for high tech jobs for our graduates, for our [students in] computer engineering, computer science, data systems and all kinds of high tech departments, so they stay in the Negev and so they don't go to Tel Aviv."

However, one of the challenges to drawing more citizens to Be'er Sheva is the fact that it's currently in missile range from Gaza and has been a regular target. Be'er Sheva residents have had to get used to regular warning sirens and taking shelter in pre-designated areas. When I was taken to the BGU dorms for visiting scholars and other guests, one of the first things they showed me was where to take shelter if a missile warning went off.

Israel's new Iron Dome defense system has reduced the potential effects of these attacks, but it hasn't reduced the terror of the regular warnings. And, the Iron Dome itself makes bigger, scarier noises than the missiles they are intercepting, in many cases, which adds to the terror for many Be'er Sheva residents.

"Be'er Sheva is great, except for the missiles." Michael Fire, BGU graduate student in cybersecurity

This has affected a number of pioneering Israelis who have made the move to Be'er Sheva in order to support the momentum at BGU. One such professional has suffered from severe anxiety because of dealing with all of the missile warnings. Another has had to deal with family conflict because of a spouse being separated from family in the north along with the emotional toll of nurturing small children through all the missile warnings and evacuations. In both cases, they remain firmly committed to BGU and the larger mission of building the future in the Negev.

Michael Fire, the star BGU graduate student in cybersecurity, said, "Be'er Sheva is great, except for the missiles."

And yet, there's also the flipside to consider. You can make an argument that the constant threats don't ever let BGU researchers or IDF cyber soliders or even commercial businesses forget what's ultimately at stake. That remains one of intangible factors of Israel's success as a tech innovator. For six decades, Israel's existence has been continually under threat. That keeps Israelis sharp. It keeps them focused. It has also forged a pragmatism, a resourcefulness, and a disdain for hierarchy and protocol. They do whatever it takes to find workable answers to impossible problems, and they've learned how to maximize limited resources to do it.

"The opening of the Advanced Technologies Park in Be'er Sheva will be remembered as the turning point in the development of the Negev." BGU President Rikva Carmi

With the ATP, BGU and the State of Israel are counting on the combination of that pragmatism with the collaboration of academia, industry, and the IDF to speed up the development of cybersecurity, fight the new frontiers of national security threats in the 21st century, and tap these developments to incubate commercial products to improve information security across the globe.

That's an aggressive mandate, but if it succeeds then it's destined to magnify the role that Israel's tech ecosystem is going to play on the global stage in the years ahead.

BGU president Carmi proclaimed, "The opening of the Advanced Technologies Park in Be'er Sheva will be remembered as the turning point in the development of the Negev. We have always been at the geographical heart of Israel. Now we are on our way to becoming the true center for innovation and growth."

The next Silicon Valley?

The vision for BGU's Advanced Technology Park came the school's former president, Avishay Braverman, who led BGU from 1990-2006 and before that served as a senior economist for the World Bank.

"My dream that Ben Gurion University will do for Be'er Sheva what Stanford University did for Silicon Valley begins," Braverman said in a pre-recorded message that was played at the ATP inauguration. The former economist, educator, and administrator is now a member of Israel's Knesset (legislature).

 To see more of Jason Hiner's photos from Israel, click the photo above. | Image: Jason Hiner

However, in order for BGU and the Negev to become the next Silicon Valley, it's still going to need two major factors to develop.

First, it will need an even larger infusion of venture capital. While Israel attracts the most venture capital per capita of any nation in the world and Israelis are remarkably resourceful, the ecosystem will still need more if it is going to play in the big leagues with Silicon Valley. The U.S. generates about $30 billion in VC investment annually. Israel generates about $2 billion.

Second, Israel in general and the Negev specifically are also going to need flagship technology brands to arise in Israel and become global anchors in their own right, rather than sell to American firms. It needs its own Google, Apple, Microsoft, Intel, or Amazon. Or more likely, it's going to need several of them, with headquarters in the Negev flanking the ATP.

Still, if you're looking for where the next Silicon Valley could coalesce, then Ben Gurion University of the Negev is one of the most important places to watch. The groundbreaking work they are doing in public-private partnerships, the cooperation with the Israeli Defense Forces, the sense of mission and destiny that Israelis have about the Negev, and the determination, urgency, and resourcefulness that have been created by Israel's 65-year existential crisis are creating an environment where technology, cybersecurity, and entrepreneurship are uniquely positioned to succeed.


Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.


I am new TechRepublic, so maybe I'm looking in the wrong place. I do not see a written date, as in when the article was written. I note that the oldest  comment is dated October 1st 2013. But when was the article written?


How fantastic!! I pray that Israel's neighbors begin their own pursuit of education. Collaboration with Israel could very well breed mutual respect and prosperity.


Without the support of the west, israel will cease to exist.


Very informative. But israel could have never achieve this without the help of the west. It has a direct access to western technology unlike the other countries, they are not smarter.


I did not sign up to tech republic to be served propaganda for a warmongering, apartheid country. 

if anything like this lands in my mailbox again, ill find another tech blog to subscribe. 

Wishful One
Wishful One

New respect for Mr. Hiner after reading this article.  I have always loved the Israeli people and want to visit there someday.  The story of Israel is one of the oldest and most amazing.  I believe every word, and am thankful to be able to be called a "son of Abraham" by my faith.


Just unmasked black propaganda for an occupation force that has been killing my people in Palestine, steeling their homeland for more than 60 years, the army that kills kids, women and civilian, humiliating a whole brave nation called Palestinians.


Excellent and highly informative article. It is bouand to iritate many people who dislike the political implications and the open and free commentary of the writer, reflecting the actual spirit of things. Israel stands in stark contrast to most of its surroundings, a place where innovation, the will to express freely and a deep drive for great achievements spiritually rule and are shared by everyone.

Just look at that photo of road signs to Tel-Aviv and Be'er Sheva (Beersheba). This tells the whole story that no one wants to listen to. Israel has THREE official languages since its inception, and this is projected everywhere: Hebrew, English and Arabic. The Jews decided from day one that English, the language of the then-much-hated English Mandate rullers of the country, will become an official languge of the state that had genrational fights with the British and has just thrown them away. And Arabic, the language of the enemy, recognizing the fact that Arabs are part of this land, by law. Most Jews of that time, back in the 1940's and 1950's came from eastern Europe - Russia, Poland, Romania. Yet they didn't want Russian not Romanian as the formal languages, they wanted Hebrew, English, Arabic to be the formal languages, and the many Arab members of the Israeli Parliament can - and do - speak from the podium in Arabic.

Israel is probably the only country in the world where employees may approach their superiors at work and tell them in their face what they think about them, even instruct them how the employee thinks that things should be done properly, and get with it not only unharmed (or at least without the ramifications this would bear in any other country) but also to affect some desired changes.

Israel is far from being the ideal country but its greatness is that it recognizes this fact and always tries to make better, with all of its citizens sharing in this view even if from different and often contradicting angles. This may be the source of innovation and creativity so widespread in israel, taht nobody and no one is perfect and everybody is striving to improve and to change. It is not a place to rest, this is where things are on a constant roll, with law and order always struggling to keep matters in line and society in a coherent state, and this is not easy, but it works - maybe not as good as it is in Scandinavia or in Switzerland, but way, way better than in many, many tumultous countries falling appart due to divisions and negative energies.

Whoever criticizes Israel is a person who knows nothing about this country and wishes to know nothing and remain in that obscurity. This is why Israel is chugging forward and forever will while its oponents will always remain in the dark, realistically and metaphorically.


very easy to guess which region or country is going to lead cyber security..the one who has been attacked most and is still under attack ....

obviously not Israel or US!


It is a sad state of affairs that the technology trumpeted is cyber-security, even sadder after generations of being outcasts living in ghettos, Israel has built a wall around itself to keep others out.  I always hoped that Israel would be "the shining city on the hill" in the Middle East, instead it has become a walled fortress filled with security cameras and listening devices, a modern Sparta disliked by many.


What a waste of time.   If someone, or company or country, is paying you to write propaganda for them you should say that right at the beginning so that we won't waste our time on this crap.   


Good Job Jason!...

But i see no reason why we've got to give so much meaning to Hatred!...I see so much hate in the comments so much that i wonder if there is still love in this world!


Seemed to be a promising article, but I pretty quickly became overwhelmed with the bias of it all, and I chose to stop reading. Have all the opinions you'd like, but at a site like TechRepublic, I'm looking for information, not propaganda.


What an inspirational article, and no surprise the Israelis are so successful, goes to show that with such a positive attitude anything can be achieved. I read in an article recently that BGU have also developed an eco friendly fuel that can be carried through the current infrastructure and will be available in the next 5-10 years.

It might be a good idea for the oil producing countries to take note and start investing their petro-dollars in building their own countries up instead of bombing each other before the demand for fossil fuel becomes redundant.  

It is also no surprise to hear all the negative comments posted here by the green eyed monsters.

"And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others"

Quote by the late great Nelson Mandela :-).


Jason, that was a very informative article.

Shame you had to drag political posturing into it with the excuse that Israel's history is important. Next time you cover something like DARPA, dont forget to mention the US' history of patriotic genocide and a new world order, one big happy American family under that green and crinkly god you all worship so.

Now, I'm not anti-American either, or come to that pro anything but the advancement of our species - which has to learn to agree with all beliefs to survive. I hold no religion, and I truly believe technology has no place in it either. Man invented technology to solve problems that education alone cannot, and only education will resolve the issues that technology cant, and religion often causes.

I dont want to read politics, and I dont want to see a bunch of posts from politically biased commenters on both sides arguing who is right, when none of them are.

Because you cant report responsibly on the technology without personal or political bias, you just lost yet another subscriber. Not that you care though, I could have promoted hatred and given you another shiny coin with as much ease.

I'm never insulting to those who comment, they are entitled to their opinion wrong or right. You however do not share that entitlement as host of the forum and are responsible for the hateful comments it has and will continue to generate. Please do us all a favour and f* off, we do not need you to provide us with material like this to argue over.


The link to this article has popped up in my inbox for a second time. It first came 2 or 3 months back as I could remember the comments read back then. What's big deal in popularizing this article again?


Politically Incorrect Article, I started to read based on the title to discover I am reading a political propaganda

vikas saxena
vikas saxena

Israel, maybe small in size, is tall in stature in the comity of nations. Israel has redefined 'survival'. Indomitable will, achievement motivation of the foremost order, and innovation and creativity which are just non-pareil, are just a few of the several positive characteristics of this nation which make it a differentiator. Highly developed nations and developing nations need to emulate Israel in many fields, and the under-developed nations can draw a leaf from Israel, in the pursuit of scaling-up.


Jason, we don't care about your Zionist centric political BS... Israeli crimes and genocide of Palestinian people and aggression against its neighbors is condemned by international community.

stick to technical, if you can't anymore then retire.


Following Jason't article, please be aware of the upcoming conference (Tel Aviv, Israel, January 27-29, 2014) Cybertech Israel, the first event of its kind, will present world-leading companies in the field of cyber defense alongside young companies that offer unique solutions to advance the discipline of cyber security. The conference will focus on commercial problem-solving strategies and solutions for cyber infrastructure experts across multiple sectors: energy, utilities, finance, defense, R&D, manufacturing, service sectors, health, government, telecommunications, transportation and more.

for more information, please visit:


Interesting information thanks for sharing

Capitan Haddock
Capitan Haddock

Israel IS  VERY STRONG  and can win  a war  against  Fidji Islands



David Roy
David Roy

@jaffar.mansour Dear Mr Jaffar, you are talking about a brave nation called Palestinians. Can you please make a reference to any historical records to the existence of such nation, or their cultural heritage etc? quite frankly, the Palestinian issue was invented by the Arab League in 1964 to fight Israel. Never before was their any reference to a Palestinian people.The lie is now established in the West but the world is changing and there are no Arab nations either. The British and French fiction that created Arab nations and promoted nationalism is dying a natural death by your own people showing no more than tribal loyalty and spreading religious wars across the Middle East. The West is still behind the curve, but the refugees and the immigrants will bring this war to the shores of Europe as well. Just a matter of time. The Islam that once promoted culture and learning has become a new Islam of vengeance and death. No real contribution to human kind in the last 200 years. And now you bring death, hatred and nothing more. Look at yourself before you dare to condemn Israel or claim that they have no claim to the land. Just like Islam is kicking Christianity from the land it was born, so it did to the Jew who lived for thousands years in the Middle East - Iraq, Iran, Saudi, Yaman to name a few. You claim that the Jews have no claim and you forget their history in this land. Do that and carry on condemning your people to death and misery. You offer no peace to the Jews but want everything and yet cry when 6m in a small piece of land stand to 370m ,Muslims who wants them dead on religious basis just in the near vicinity to them.

Wishful One
Wishful One


Palestinians put explosive vests on their children and teach them hatred at 5 years of age.  What the hell are you talking about?  Palestinians of today are nothing but the Philistines of yesterday -- servants of Satan.  Samson taught them a lesson, and Israelis of today continue his legacy.  Turn away from the false religion of Islam and believe in the true God of creation; then there will be hope for the Palestinians.


@addemallup Sure it'll be nice to have the chaos, riots and killings in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Egypt, Afghanistan, and some other wild-west world-class countries spreading. Iran's Ayatollah's regime spreading. Murders of Christians by the hands on Muslims such as in Nigeria, Indonesia and the Philippines, spreading. 

As long as you and your likes can show the corps of idiotic few - very, very few - "freedom fighters" like Rachel Corrie suiciding themselves eyes wide open and in full conscious where there is no need (Israel had fully withdrew from Gaza to the last soldier and civilian, all by its own accord, back in 2005 - that's 9 years ago! and you continue to full the world with stories about "occupied Gaza"....), then you feel good about it. How wonderful you can show ONE single person dead and forget about all the millions of Muslims murdered by their own town neighbors. What a wonderful dementia you have.

Wishful One
Wishful One


Israel:  A tiny little nation in the middle of a bunch of gigantic Mooslim nations that want to destroy it.  Pretty amazing that it's been able to hold its own.   Hmm...  God's chosen people, maybe?  The true king of the world WILL return and rule from Jerusalem, destroying and defeating all his enemies, those who love evil and serve the Evil One.  It breaks my heart that America has turned against God and his chosen people... 


@silencenolonger Why not, let's open Israel borders and let all the refugees and all the crazy terrorists from all over the region flow freely into it. From Assad's murderous Syria where Israel is to blame for all their inter-faith deaths, from Egypt where they may be tired of seeking their own democracy and damning Israel in the process, from Iraq where they kill each other relentlessly because the Americans killed poor old nice-bot Saddam, from faraway Sudan in the middle of Africa (where a constant flow of a dozens of thousands of refugees have already flooded Israel when even they have heard it's the only tiny safe and civilized place in the huge 10,000 miles radius around them), from Erithrea (same as Sudan goes here), and probably from some other more or less troubled Muslim countries trying to destroy themselves as best as they can. 

Oh and we forgot the poor old millions of Palestinians, who try once and again to win the country as though it's always been theirs from time remembered, who have been very unwelcome by all their true blood brother Arab nations but should be openly welcome by Israel to destroy it forever, as they openly express at every occasion. They are no good for their brothers and sisters but are good enough to throw a prosperous country and all its people to the sea...

Then and only then, will Israel become a beacon of true light to the world. When it ceases to exist even by name, when Jews will be the hated stateless people they've been for two milenia or rather whatever shreds of a people their remains will be, then and only then they will be welcome back by the nations of the world, to have pity on them. Or maybe to get rid of them, permanently? Once and for all?


@Al_nyc Noone forced you to read it. Although its funny to imagine that your teeth were probably gnashing and were frothing at the mouth as you read the incredible resourcefulness and intellectual brilliance of the Jewish people


@Al_nyc @silencenolonger Why not, let's open Israel borders and let all the refugees and all the crazy terrorists from all over the region flow freely into it. From Assad's murderous Syria where Israel is to blame for all their inter-faith deaths, from Egypt where they may be tired of seeking their own democracy and damning Israel in the process, from Iraq where they kill each other relentlessly because the Americans killed poor old nice-bot Saddam, from faraway Sudan in the middle of Africa (where a constant flow of a dozens of thousands of refugees have already flooded Israel when even they have heard it's the only tiny safe and civilized place in the huge 10,000 miles radius around them), from Erithrea (same as Sudan goes here), and probably from some other more or less troubled Muslim countries trying to destroy themselves as best as they can. 

Oh and we forgot the poor old millions of Palestinians, who try once and again to win the country as though it's always been theirs from time remembered, who have been very unwelcome by all their true blood brother Arab nations but should be openly welcome by Israel to destroy it forever, as they openly express at every occasion. They are no good for their brothers and sisters but are good enough to throw a prosperous country and all its people to the sea...

Then and only then, will Israel become a beacon of true light to the world. When it ceases to exist even by name, when Jews will be the hated stateless people they've been for two milenia or rather whatever shreds of a people their remains will be, then and only then they will be welcome back by the nations of the world, to have pity on them. Or maybe to get rid of them, permanently? Once and for all?


@mdtallon This is no propaganda. Take your next vacation in Israel. It won't be very cheap compared to Cuba or Mexico or Thailand or the Philippines, but you'll discover a slew of new things and you'll enjoy the discovery of so much old and new and diversity in such a small space. Then you'll see why such an article was written the way it was, because that's reality over there. Everyday reality. That's what makes it so special.



"It seemed to be a promising article.."?  No it didn't.

The first 6 words of the title damned the whole thing as utter nonsense.

"How Israel is rewriting the future..."

Just think about that one.   

The future isn't written.

The whole requirement specification for time was that the sequence is written as history as it happens.   

While I doubt that one can rewrite the past, that is unclear from the requirement specification, it is at least a meaningful concept.  Although of course success would be impossible to determine so by Occam's razor one might declare the possibility as irrelevant and defacto non existent.  But the concept of rewriting the past is still a meaningful one, probably as a way to escape from an unpleasant current.  Perhaps we should consider implementing it in a future release.

But what the f**k does rewriting the future mean?   


Mandela's Memo to Thomas Friedman About Israel & Palestine

"Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.

The responses made by South Africa to human rights abuses emanating from the removal policies and Apartheid policies respectively, shed light on what Israeli society must necessarily go through before one can speak of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and an end to its Apartheid policies."


"But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." Nelson Mandela

Really psheaf - quoting Mandela in suport of Zionist aggression - in particular during the expulsion of the Bedoiun from their ancestral Negev homelands - is breathtaking impudence.

Wishful One
Wishful One


If you're so offended, why bother commenting.  Move on...

Wishful One
Wishful One


Yeah, politically incorrect.   Isn't that a good thing?  Speak truth to power, man!  I'm so sick of being told what to believe and think.  Screw them all.

Wishful One
Wishful One


Here's the technical:  New technologies are continuously being developed to protect an "outnumbered" nation to survive the primitive brutality that is Islam.  What's your point?


The word "Palestinians" in a rome innovation, come to the air 450 BEFORE the islam.
the Rome also cold Jerusalem " eina capitolina "
Jerusalem is not " eina capitolina ".
Israel is not "Palestinians"
There is no "Palestinian people" or "Palestinians culture"
The Arabs here didn't build nothing but bring , Terror, Hamas, Jihad ( that is the contribution of Islam to the world )
Just pure history.
Israel is a jewish state, the only state for jews, thousand of years before the Islam appear in year of : 620 .
Israel is our "promised land "



@Wishful One That's just a stupid archaic religious view-inspired comment. We don't believe in Satans anymore today and many people in the past already understood the difference between a metaphor and reality. Besides, the view that the Palestines were the Philistines is a backward view. Philistines were probably one of the Sea Peoples. Please read a book.

@jaffar.mansour  Your comment wasn't much wiser: you belong to one camp and point all your fingers to the other camp - that's easy. Leave proper assessment to third parties who are not having such an agenda. Besides, it now turns out in ancient times the 'Hebrews' did not come from elsewhere, they were natives, just like the Palestinians, but the Abraham figure was introduced in support of the quest for monotheism. The Israeli's are just as much Palestinians as you are. So for you too: read a book or something.

This whole wishful thinking garbage and the whole shebang whenever the subject is Israel or Palestine should just be removed from all forums on the internet, it might save a lot of space and make all the reading much easier. There are organizations out there who work with both Palestinians and Israeli's, bringing them together around reason and social connection - these people are like 2 Middle-East brothers once they stop trying to be so right. They better start trying to be good.


@Wishful One @jaffar.mansour  

Palestinians put vests since they dont have sophisticated missiles that would wipe out whole neighborhoods in one blow. They dont  learn to hate, they see blood all around then since their childhood, blood of their family, shed my the occupation forces. Israelis kill over 200 palestinians for every injured/killed israeli (and this the official figure). Calling another religion false and satanic, you sound so much like the very tyrants who persecuted and killed jews by numbers in the past. Have you not learned any lesson?

It is sad and startling that the sons of holocaust survivors are repeating the same tactics they were subjected to and they use holocaust memorials to hide their guilt.

Israel should remember that they are surrounded by the people they are trying to wipe out today. Both local christians and muslims despise israel and considers them outsiders. Time would tell what would happen in middle east when the tide changes.


@amibrandes  Whatever the nations in the region are doing in their land this doesn't give any excuse to Israel to steel the land of another nation, humiliate them and expel them, all around the world.

Israel left Gaza after collected all the people of south Palestine into a very small area which made it the most crowded are in the human history, and put them in a big jail and then blame them for firing preliminary rockets.

Believe me, whatever killing technologies you will develop, the human being will win at the end.  

Wishful One
Wishful One


Mandela was a terrorist and only held so long because he refused to condemn terrorism.  Not a great man by any means.  But, as usual, great men are given short schrift, and useless ones are glorified.  Once again, the world of the devil versus God's holy servants, who will be vindicated at the end of time.


@joe.mellon this article wasn't written by Mandela. 

It is a  letter written by anti-Israel activist Arjan El Fassed more than a decade ago in the style of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s made-up letters from world leaders. The letter, purportedly from Mandela to Friedman, compares Israel to apartheid South Africa and has been quoted widely, including by Jimmy Carter. But it is a fraud.
For the whole story of this hoax go to this link


@joe.mellon Nelson Mandela had great human understanding but it was limited his own experiences not the Palestinian cause, he never visited the area so had no deep understanding of the conflict. You miss  the point Mr Mellon in your rage at Israel and your anti-Zionist rant. You are one of the green eyed monsters.