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  • Rebekah Mercer

Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce Analysis Featured in Texas Jewish Post

U.S., Israel Work to Ensure Cybersecurity

Since Israel officially became a state in 1948, the United States has benefited from the Jewish State’s knowledge of regional actors in the Middle East and its leading contribution to critical security systems and technologies.

From its inception, Israel has been at the forefront of managing diverse security threats, which also face the United States, and it has led the charge in the advancement of vital cyber security technology systems. Israel’s world-renowned expertise in the field of cyber security is critical in order for the United States to be best equipped to defend itself.

The strategic U.S.-Israel alliance is vital for both nations. While Israel receives financial and military support from the United States, the Jewish State provides innovative military technologies and medical expertise that the U.S. utilizes to best protect American troops. This alliance between both nations has always been shaped by security imperatives, and in the 21st century, many of these imperatives take place in the digital realm.

Executive Deals and Legislative Initiatives

Recognizing Israel’s innovative cyber defense strategies, recent U.S. presidents have made strides toward cyber collaboration with Israel.

Under the Obama administration, the heads of the Israel National Cyber Bureau (INCB) and the National Cyber Security Authority signed a joint declaration on cooperative cyber defense with the U.S. secretary and deputy secretary of homeland security June 21, 2016. This declaration, in the pursuit of having both nations share “operative information” dealing with cyber defense in real time, required a creation of networks between Israel’s National Cyber Security Authority and its U.S. equivalent in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Further, soon after President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel this past May, his administration announced its intentions to work more with the Jewish State in the area of cyber security. The U.S. will continue to pursue these security initiatives through supporting Israeli rocket defense systems such as the Iron Dome and David’s Sling and by working with Israel to thwart cyber-attacks. According to Thomas Bossert, Trump’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, “The agility Israel has in developing solutions will innovate cyber defenses that we can test here and bring back to America. Perfect security may not be achievable, but we have within our reach a safer and more secure internet.”

The importance of cyber collaboration with Israel is also recognized by members of Congress, who in recent years have introduced legislation to foster such initiatives. For example, the “United States-Israel Cyber Security Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2017” passed the House and was introduced in the Senate. If the bill becomes law, DHS would be required to create a grant program for cyber security research and development, and the “demonstration and commercialization of cyber security technology.”

Critical Infrastructure

Additionally, legislation and executive initiatives in the pursuit of cyber collaboration between the U.S. and Israel go beyond national security in the international arena. Such initiatives can allow the U.S. to glean from Israeli cyber expertise to implement new ways in fighting potential internal cyber threats to critical infrastructure.

The U.S.’s internal critical infrastructure consists of a broad range of sectors, such as the Water and Wastewater Systems Sector, the Financial Services Sector and the Healthcare and the Public Health Sector. Thus, major obstruction as to how these sectors are managed will have a significant impact on U.S. national security, its economy and public health.

Cyber threats can pose a unique type of obstruction in the management of critical infrastructure. In an interview with the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce, Gregory White, the director of the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS) at the University of Texas in San Antonio, home to one of the nation’s top cyber security academic programs, emphasized the potential of cyber threats on America’s critical infrastructure.

“Cyber provides an opportunity for terrorists to have a significant impact on the infrastructures of a nation and (they) can do it without ever having to be physically present in the target nation,” White said.

Further, in emphasizing why developed nations such as the United States are much more prone to such cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, White explained that developed nations are more likely to be adversely affected by these forms of attack.

“One thing, however, is that the U.S. and other developed countries are more susceptible to attacks on their critical infrastructures than are less developed nations,” he said. ”If a country has trouble on a normal, daily basis keeping power flowing — if they have frequent power outages — then an attack on their electrical infrastructure will likely have less of an impact on the nation than a similar attack on a more developed nation.”

The DHS has created the Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis (OCIA) to better understand the nature of potential cyber-attacks and create prevention and response plans to mitigate damage that such attacks pose. However, to better predict and strengthen the systems that manage U.S. critical infrastructure especially from potential cyber threats that originate from regions in the Middle East, further legislative and executive initiatives are crucial to encourage U.S.-Israeli cyber intelligence cooperation in this particular area.

Texas Israel Connection Can Lead Cybersecurity

Unbeknownst to many, Texas and Israel share various areas of economic overlap, one of those most significant being cyber security. San Antonio especially has this competitive advantage; it possesses the greatest amount of cyber professionals in the U.S. outside of Washington, D.C., as it pertains to talent, jobs and research.

In addition to having great “cyber intelligence capital,” Texas has many regionally diverse features that create great vulnerabilities to cyber-attack such as:

Ports Of the many ports in Texas, the Port of Houston is one of the most significant as it serves as a gateway from the fourth largest city in the U.S. to South and Central America. Further, the port is unique because it serves the second largest petrochemical complex in the world, refining 35 percent of the U.S. supply.

Daniel J. Ragsdale and Paula S. deWitte, respectively the director and assistant director of Texas A&M’s Cybersecurity Institute (TAMC²), describe what a possible cyber-attack on the port would look like:

“Potential cyber-attacks are to take over control systems of inbound or outbound ships, causing accidents and possibly blocking the port. In 2018 all ships will require internet access, which increases the vulnerability of this type of attack occurring.”

Oil and gas industry

Texas is also a national leader in the realm of energy, as evidenced by its many centers of oil production, refining and distribution. Ragsdale and deWitte explain how a cyber-attack could disrupt the supply chain of energy:

“A potential cyber-attack could take over the operator’s view of what is going on, manipulate sensors, pressure valves, or other industrial control systems equipment and cause major damage.”

Military units Both Texas A&M professors further explain that Texas’ 18 active military installations, which include Army, Air Force and Navy bases as well as the USAF Cyber Command and the NSA Center in San Antonio, give the state a prominent military presence that creates valuable targets.

The next step: Texas-Israel cyber relations The cyber war is unique in that in contrast to traditional warfare, it transcends domestic borders and functions in an intangible realm, yet manifests into destructive tangible consequences. Accordingly, working with allies to confront the complicated cyber terrain is essential.

Information-sharing relating to cyber issues is of great importance between allies, and as aforementioned, the U.S. has made significant declarations to foster this type of cyber cooperation with Israel. Beyond federally led initiatives, however, Texas officials can also work with Israel to improve cyber technology.

Two recent examples are the business delegations to Israel that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner led in May and that San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg led in October. The mayors, along with prominent business and community leaders from each city, met with Israeli companies and experts in many areas of economic overlap between both “Lone Star” states. As cyber security is an area of economic overlap of particular relevance to both states, both Texas mayors expressed how their trips intended to build on their alliance with Israel and better serve cyber interests economically.

Future trips by Texas mayors from other major cities such as Austin and Dallas could open the doors for more cyber collaboration between both states. Further, Texas’ Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller made a historic visit to Israel in early 2018 and signed a “Declaration of Cooperation” announcing greater economic relations between Texas and Israel in the realm of agriculture. Thus, if such a statement were made in the realm of cyber security, beyond the mutual economic benefits that Texas and Israel could receive, this formal cyber cooperation would encourage Texas to implement and “test” cyber Israeli technologies. This could then present the opportunity for more Israeli innovations that have proven successful in-state to also be implemented at the federal level.

Overall, the U.S.-Israel alliance today faces national threats that go beyond the physical realm of warfare. Both countries, however, have the technological advantages relative to their surrounding regional actors to succeed in the cyber war. More legislative efforts and economic cooperation between both nations are essential in order for the necessary advancements in cyber innovation in the interest of national security to be realized. Texas’ cyber specialization and its need for more innovative cyber means of protecting its unique regionally diverse features can play a significant role in helping achieve this critical end.

Rebekah Mercer is a research fellow for the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce and a recent graduate of Baylor University, where she studied political science and business administration. She will begin law school this fall, where she will pursue her interests in constitutional and international law.

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