IBM opens doors to Israel centre for security tech push

The company is counting on a new center in southern Israel to help it tap into Israel's security knowhow.
Written by David Shamah, Contributor
Stephen Mills (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Cybertech 2014.
Stephen Mills (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Cybertech 2014. Image: Dani Machlis

Not a second goes by without a system somewhere coming under attack from criminals, protest groups, or even terrorists, said Steve Mills, senior vice present and group executive, IBM Software & Systems. What's more, the attacks are now focused on mobile, corporate, and enterprise systems, as hackers make incessant attempts to steal valuable data. 

Mills made the comments at Israel's first major cyber security show, which took place in Tel Aviv last week. Security is a major industry for Israel: besides being home to veteran security companies like Checkpoint, the country's startups are also making their mark — for example, Cyberark, which prevents hackers from using privileged accounts to siphon data off systems, is used by nearly half of the companies of the Fortune 50, including 17 of the 20 largest banks worldwide.

So if IBM was going to open a Centre of Excellence for Security and Protection of Infrastructure and Assets, Israel would seem like the natural place to do it — and in his speech, which kicked off Cybertech 2014, Mills announced that IBM would do exactly that, in conjunction with Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, located in southern Israel. With the new centre, cyber security joins big data and cloud computing as areas where IBM is active in Israel.

IBM is the grandfather of all multinational investors in Israel, beginning its relationship with the country in 1949. Today, IBM has three research labs, with over 1,000 employees, including the company's largest research lab outside the US, in Haifa, which opened in 1972. And last year, the company spent nearly $500m to snap up Trusteer, a cyber security company that makes security solutions for mobile banking, whose products are used by seven of the top 10 US banks and nine of the top 10 UK banks.

With the opening of the Beersheba Centre (the company's 26th security lab worldwide), IBM will be joining a cyber security infrastructure being built by startups and multinationals in the region — among them EMC, RSA, and Deutsche Telekom, all of which have established cyber security R&D labs in the same high-tech industrial park.

The cross-pollination between the organisations, as well as with engineers from the university (which this week announced it was establishing a degree program in cyber security, the first anywhere in the world), will help lead to breakthroughs that will help all of the companies, Mills said, since each is fighting the same foe.

"Our ongoing investments and rich history of patent leadership is helping our clients secure and protect their infrastructure and data in today's new era of big data and cloud computing," Mills said. "Our partnership with Ben-Gurion University will help extend innovation not only in Israel but around the world."

IBM wasn't the only big data multinational to announce the opening of a cyber security R&D center in Israel last week. US defence contractor Lockheed-Martin isn't just about fighter jets, said Chandra McMahon of the company's Information Systems & Global Solutions unit (IS&GS).

"Lockheed is actually a huge IT company," McMahon said, adding that the IT would be administered by IS&GS. "We have nearly $9bn in sales annually and are the largest supplier of IT solutions to the federal government in the US."

Lockheed needs cyber security solutions, and to get them, it has partnered with EMC — which several years ago bought out Israeli security company RSA — to seek out Israeli security startups. "Israel is well-known for its cyber-technology, and it's got a lot of great startups," McMahon said. "We want to put that know-how to work for us."

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