Despite Brexit opportunity, UK-Israel cyber ties may face ‘resistance’ from political problems

Despite Brexit opportunity, UK-Israel cyber ties may face ‘resistance’ from political problems

New report issued by BICOM looks at bilateral cyber security links after Britain leaves the European Union

Israel has become a world leader in countering cyber attacks
Israel has become a world leader in countering cyber attacks

Brexit presents an opportunity for the UK and Israel to work even more closely in the field of cyber security, according to a UK-Israel think-tank, but “political problems” at British universities are leading to “resistance”.

The analysis comes in a report published this week by the Britain Israel Communications Research Centre (BICOM), which looks at opportunities for bilateral links post-Brexit.

In it, researchers say Brexit means partnerships with countries outside the European Union are of increased importance, with Israeli cyber firms “a particular target”.

There is already evidence of partnership. Last year, the head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said his Israeli equivalent helped the UK’s response to the WannaCry virus attack, which infected computers and encrypted data – including those of many hospitals – holding users to ransom.

Describing the experience, NCSC chief executive Ciaran Martin said the experience evidenced “one of our newest but fastest developing cyber security partnerships,” while Robert Hannigan, who until recently ran GCHQ, the UK government’s signals intelligence centre, said the UK-Israel cyber relationship was “excellent”.

Elsewhere, the British Council and UK Science and Innovation Network are to fund joint UK-Israel scientific symposia and workshops in fields including cyber, while beyond cyber, over 330 Israeli tech companies have set up shop in the UK, the British Embassy in Tel Aviv actually reporting an increase of 28 percent since Brexit.

But in the cyber field, anecdotal evidence suggests that Israeli companies are more interested in breaking into the American market, despite some notable success defending British infrastructure. One such example of the latter is Israeli company Waterfall Security, whose software protects British oil rigs, pipelines and refineries.

In addition, BICOM researchers say there are suggestions that UK-Israel cyber security cooperation in academia can run into “political problems” at British universities, noting “resistance”.

An Israeli academic at one of Israel’s top university cyber research centres, speaking anonymously, told BICOM: “I am afraid the reasons are political because when I tried to work with a couple of colleagues of mine, that’s the understanding that I got.”

They added: “To sell it [UK-Israeli cooperation] internally through the university governance creates unnecessary political problems for them … we have cooperation with other countries, many in the United States and some also in continental Europe, but almost none in the UK.”

Noting that Israeli cyber security researchers had reported “resistance from UK colleagues,” the reports’ authors said this would be “a missed opportunity for the UK cyber innovation ecosystem”.

British businesses do not share British academics’ reticence, however, with Jonathan Gad, a cyber consultant at Elite Cyber Solutions, describing a “tremendous positive shift in the UK over the last few years” with Israeli cyber firms “proven to be extremely successful in defending against the modern day cyber threats”.

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