Startup nations | Israel a world leader in fighting cyberthreat

The Sony hack in November reportedly included the release of more than 40,000 Social Security numbers and sensitive, high-level emails from company executives. According to reports, Sony was forced to spend millions to clear up the damage, not to mention the harm to its brand and reputation. Other major U.S. companies, such as eBay, Target, JPMorgan and Home Depot, also have come under attack. That list, unfortunately, is sure to grow.

Our businesses, private information, bank accounts, correspondence and even our identities are under attack, and the hackers are only growing more aggressive and sophisticated. In fact, cybercrime globally is now bigger than the drug trade.

Israel contends with an enormous number of cyberthreats on a daily basis, with Israeli e-government sites facing one of the highest attack rates in the world, and Israel’s electric company fending off up to a million attacks per day.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and Israel’s need to defend its critical infrastructure is one of the reasons the startup nation also has gained an international reputation as a cybernation. Israel is on the front lines of the battle to confront the growing global cyberthreat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has even declared that he envisions our burgeoning cyberhub of Beersheva in Israel’s south not only as the cybercapital of Israel “but one of the most important places in the cybersecurity field in the world.”

Much of Israel’s innovation in the cybersphere will be showcased at the RSA Conference April 20-24 in San Francisco — the world’s most important information security event — bringing together companies and experts to discuss the latest advances, threats and opportunities. This year, Israel will have its first national pavilion at the conference. The Israel Economic Mission to the West Coast, in coordination with the Israel Export Institute, the consulate and California Israel Chamber of Commerce, curated and vetted the list of 25 Israeli companies participating in the pavilion, including established firms like Rafael, Elbit Systems and Verint, as well as many up-and-coming startups such as Checkmarx, Skycure and ThetaRay, connecting them with major players and investors in the industry. This year, we are set to far surpass last year’s 250 meetings for Israeli companies attending, with the aim of further improving Israel’s position as a world leader in cybersecurity.

On that note, a one-day satellite event — Israel Cyber Security Showcase — will take place on Monday, April 20 at the W Hotel, featuring a workshop for startups on the efficacy of a strong public relations campaign, short pitches from each of the participating companies and a cybersecurity panel of experts.

This past year, a number of Israeli cybersecurity companies enjoyed headline-making merger-and-acquisition deals and hugely successful IPOs. Last month, CyActive, a startup whose “future proof security” predicts future hacks in order to stop them before they can succeed, was acquired by PayPal. In September, CyberArk, which focuses on internal security breaches and protecting privileged accounts, went public on NASDAQ in one of last year’s most successful IPOs and is now valued at more than $1.5 billion. Both companies attended the RSA conference in the past, supported by the Israel Economic Mission to the West Coast; attendees last year Aorato and Porticor have since been acquired by Microsoft and Intuit, respectively.


Startup of the Month

Two Israeli startups are revolutionizing the music education industry in different ways. Tonara’s music education app Wolfie — after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — turns an iPad into a digital teacher’s assistant, getting kids to sit at the piano by using exactly the technology that is pulling them away from it. Tonara’s technology can actually “hear” music being played and follow it on digital sheet music, helping professional musicians and music students alike to practice and perform more effectively. Before Wolfie hit the app store, the company piloted the program at the Special Music School in New York City, partnering with the city’s education fund to donate more than a dozen iPads to a selection of the school’s music students.

JoyTunes is a company that makes practicing piano fun. It’s got two great apps, one aimed at introducing novice students to piano playing and the second devoted to more in-depth music education. JoyTunes decided not to charge teachers to use the app, lowering revenue but making innovative music education available to all.


Exit of the Month

New York–based, Israeli-founded fintech company Fundtech, with offices in Herzliya, was acquired by Canadian DH Corp. for $1.25 billion. Fundtech provides financial software solutions for clearance and processing of automatic payments.

Gili Ovadia is the S.F.-based Israeli consul for economic affairs to the West Coast.