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The threat has not disappeared – it has evolved

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What is the connection between the emergence of such Israeli companies as Terrogence, Windward and Mellanox Technologies and the evolution of the threats in the field of HLS?

By Asaf Ashkenazi

September 2001. A series of terrorist attacks awakens the global security solution industry. A particularly powerful spotlight illuminates the Israeli defense industries, security solution providers, the experience and talent accumulated here over many years of confronting terrorism threats.

The recognition of the extent of damage and destruction a determined terrorist can cause, armed with nothing but motivation and a small knife, struck the governments of the West. Enormous budgets were poured out. A tributary of that river of money flowed into Israel, too: security product manufacturers and consultants became highly-regarded players in the global HLS market practically overnight. The threat imposed on aviation and strategic installations became the greatest threat faced by the civilized world, and the willingness to invest in the eradication of this threat was enormous. The drums of war thundered and giant armies went to war against the most elusive enemy ever.

More than a decade has passed. The results have been fairly disappointing. Aviation security in the USA, in its new format, has not delivered the goods. A gigantic investment and a failed changeover in civil aviation tell the story of the entire industry. Tens of thousands of new employees have been and are still being inducted as security inspectors in US airports. Most of them work for a rate that is close to minimum wage, and turnover is excessive. They operate technological resources that have been developed and deployed at a cost of billions of dollars. All of that has not changed the ritual – at almost every test, the security layout was breached and the potential saboteur managed to go through it relatively easily. Consequently, difficult questions are being asked and the budget faucet is closing.

Long before the threat to aviation and strategic installations has been eradicated, a new contender appeared on the scene: mega-terrorism or unconventional terrorism – chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorism. Once again, huge budgets were poured out for the development of sophisticated sensors and the attainment of a capability to cope with such attacks, and once again it turned out that the effectiveness of these projects was fairly limited. Consequently, difficult questions are being asked and the budget faucet is closing.

Now, the cyber threat has emerged: a young, current, aggressive threat that pertains to almost everything in this modern on-line world, including the private business sector. No one has any doubts as to the identity of the present king of threats, but experience has shown that the tenure of the king of threats is measured in years. Who will be the next king and what does it all mean with regard to the Israeli security solution industry? Quo Vadis?

The third annual security & HLS conference, the crown jewel of the Israeli and international HLS industry and a major project of the Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute, will be held in Israel in November 2014. For months now, the members of the conference contents committee, including the author, have been deliberating an issue that appears to be extremely trivial – what should be the main issues to be addressed by the conference? What are the challenges facing the visitors, who come from numerous countries, and what are the solutions offered by the Israeli industry? The conference is being held for the third time, so we had expected to come up with the answers fairly easily this time around. In effect, this particular task is becoming increasingly more difficult.

The Markets are Weary

In many countries, government budgets are shrinking. Involvement in aviation security no longer guarantees gigantic deals. Maritime and land transport security technologies no longer generate substantial demand. Only very few cities present massive investments in Smart City projects abounding with infrastructure/utility and CCTV systems. Where is the market? Where will it be five and ten years from now? What effect will it all have on thousands of jobs in Israel? On the work of professionals that contributes hundreds of millions to Israeli exports? Well, the present situation embodies an exceptional opportunity for Israeli economy. The synergistic capabilities of the local industry, the established integrators and the young technological companies enable us to present a range of state-of-the-art solutions for tomorrow’s threats.

An essential prerequisite for coping with a threat, whatever it may be, is the ability to identify the threat quickly and analyze its implications, namely – to understand how the scenario that will evolve could look like. Several leading groups in the field of intelligence currently operate in Israel. Some of these groups focus on the business sector while others focus on the worlds of terrorism. Terrogence and Windward are excellent examples of this activity: the first is engaged in proactive hunting on the fields of extremist Islam while the other specializes in locating irregularities in the operations of global merchant shipping.

Other start-up companies are also active in this market and similar activity is taking place in the context of the integration companies. The aforesaid intelligence groups develop major parts of their software and monitoring tools in-house and employ teams of analysts around the clock. This business model, of selling solutions along with on-going services that require specialized skills, seems like a structure that maximizes the advantages of Israeli industry.

Understanding and analyzing the threat require collection, storage and processing of massive amounts of information. In the global buzz jargon, this business is known as Big Data. Building and operating national computer layouts is not a simple undertaking, but an interesting initiative by Mellanox Technologies offers a fascinating glimpse to the future.

Apparently, many of the readers have heard about Mellanox Technologies, an Israeli company traded on NASDAQ at a value of about one and a half billion dollars, but fewer readers will be familiar with this company’s products. Mellanox is a world leader in the development and manufacturing of electronic components designed to convey information very quickly between servers and storage systems.

About two months ago, Mellanox introduced CloudX, a model for creating ‘private’ cloud computing platforms, namely – acquiring an independent ability to process and store massive amounts of data that would minimize dependence on external computing capabilities or on the servers of Amazon, Google or some other – usually American – giant.

The CloudX initiative is important for understanding a critical element of advanced security layouts – the ability to receive and process massive amounts of information, beginning with the stage of locating and analyzing the threat and ending with the response to the attacks and catastrophes. Owing to the critical nature of the mission, organizations and states will definitely want to possess such independent capabilities.

The Circle has Opened

Massive amounts of information will be delivered to these systems, with information from civilian media constituting a major component of this collection effort, in both quality and quantity. The information will be highly diversified. Some of it will be structured and clear, like location and broadcasting data. Other elements will be textual or visual – mainly information uploaded to social media. An almost infinite array of on-line devices – the “Internet of Things (IoT)”, or more currently – “Smart Everything” will operate alongside these elements. Experts estimate that within five to ten years, almost any product valued at more than US$10 will feature computing and communication capabilities. This will be the end of the era when close circuit video had total control over the generation of the status picture. The circle has opened, in all directions.

Designing the solutions for coping with terrorist attacks and emergencies, analysis models, ensuring functional continuity, national practice exercises, smart city solutions, profiling – apparently, all of those will be based on the improved capabilities of collecting and processing existing data, and less on the deployment of new, costly infrastructure systems.

The opportunity for connections between high-tech entrepreneurs and the players of the security industry are obvious. For example, start-up companies involved in the monitoring of Internet traffic for the purpose of developing focused and stand-alone campaigns can provide a valuable infrastructure for the purpose of monitoring threats and assembling a national status picture in emergencies. Companies involved in the development of computer games have in their possession simulation engines that enable the development of particularly complex decision supporting systems. Not long ago, we have completed a pilot project with EA, where an attempt was made to use the engine of the popular computer game SimCity for the purpose of simulating the management of a city. The results were nothing short of extraordinary.

In addition to dealing with data, solutions will be required for ruggedizing and improving the survivability of the communication medium, for backup energy supply sources, storage solutions, encryption and monitoring solutions. Learning systems will be required to perform such monitoring tasks as processing images produced from screening systems as a mandatory stage on the way to presenting an effective solution for inspecting persons, baggage and cargo. In all of these fields and in many others, Israeli industry definitely has a lot to offer. The potential is tremendous.

**First published on Israel Defence