Generating research funding for cybersecurity needs
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Generating research funding for cybersecurity needs

A conference set for Newark next week will examine the confluence between cyber and physical security. It is a fascinating intersection, where high-tech, social engineering, and plain carelessness can rub together, spark, and explode.

The conference itself is another example of the confluence of different elements – of American and Israeli high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship, of funding, of networking, of diplomacy, of form and content – and of the way advances in technology can advance social and economic goals.

That’s heavy baggage for one conference, no matter how impressive its list of speakers and sponsors – and this one boasts an impressive roster.

How does it work?

The Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation – or Bird, as the Israel-based body is known by the technological types, who unfortunately tend to be given to whimsy – was started by the two governments “in the late 1970s-early 1980s,” Andrea Yonah said. Ms. Yonah, whose office is in Princeton, is Bird’s East Coast representative; she has a counterpart in California’s Silicon Valley.

“It’s an amazing story,” she said. “Bird has created a sustainable model for funding innovative technology.” Funded through a $110 million government endowment set up by the United States and Israel – each gave half – Bird gives away only the income on that principal, supplemented by money it receives from the successful projects it funds, once they turn an acceptable profit. “We have granted over $300 million; we have approved 878 programs; we have received back $98 million,” Ms. Yonah said. In fact, a study done about two years ago shows “that the impact in both countries is approximately $10 billion in sales, generated both directly and indirectly.”

Bird is always on the lookout for worthy binational projects to fund, she said. That’s where the conferences come in.

“It was conceived because each year we pick certain topics that each government had picked as a priority,” she said. “This time, that area is called CHS – cyber homeland security.

“It’s an opportunity to bring companies together to discuss a particular topic.”

Once you have done that, “you bring together the right people and let them know that this is an area where you are looking to collaborate.” Those discussions could lead to an application for a Bird grant – up to $1 million for research and development – which could bring a new partnership, rooted in both countries. That’s the form. What about the content?

“Cybersecurity has become a very hot topic now,” Ms. Yonah said. “Look what happened with Target. People keep asking how they can keep their information safe, whether you are a government aide trying to protect infrastructure or an individual wondering how to keep your savings safe, and how to buy things safely online.

“So that’s what we’ve decided to focus on. You could have the most sophisticated solution to the problem, but if you leave the door to your server room open…” Her voice trailed off.

“Or what happened to a soldier in Afghanistan, who dropped a disk key that had all types of information….

“So we have decided to focus on that convergence, between the logical cyber side and the physical side,” she said. “From that perspective, we will have someone there who is an expert in cyberglobal security, someone from ADP whose focus in on converged security architecture, and the director of the homeland security center of excellence at Rutgers.

“We have a group coming – it’s called ICTS – that has a new surveillance type of solution, but on the physical end,” she continued. “This group does a lot of security for Jewish day schools; it works with almost all the large, well-established day schools in northern New Jersey and New York City. The new technology will have a new application at a day school. Instead of the guard there having to be in many different places at the same time, there will be a 3D system that takes pictures. The guard can send them to law enforcement immediately if something were to happen.

“If something happened in a school, a gunman in a classroom, God forbid, the police already could have had a picture of that classroom.”

Dr. Leonard Cole of Ridgewood, a former president of the precursor agency to the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, is the director of the program on terror medicine and security in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rutgers University’s medical school. He also was appointed to the board of the New Jersey Israel Commission.

“I don’t know of any security issue higher on the list of immediate concerns than cybersecurity right now,” Dr. Cole said. “For the near future and maybe the long-term future as well, the issue really is paramount.

“I wouldn’t even try to define in particular which risks we face, because the very nature of the cyberworld involves almost all social and relational activities, whether they are commercial, governmental, or private. Do you not have a cell phone? If you do, that automatically involves you in cybersecurity concerns.

“It is one of the great domestic issues of our time. The government holds our information, and even when we know it has the best intentions, we feel a bit shaky. Everyone in America feels some uncertainty about what the future might hold if the government maintains personal records on virtually every citizen.”

The conference next Thursday will address those concerns, as it puts various groups in touch with each other.

“The group of people sponsoring the organization are top-notch in terms of Jewish and American civil liberty concerns. We have put together a stellar group with representatives of security concerns,” he said. “The purpose of this event is to bring them together.”

The public is invited to the conference.

About the conference
What: At the Conference on Cyber/Homeland Security – Opportunities for U.S.-Israel Partnership, a roundtable discussion with leading stakeholders from industry, government, and research will focus on opportunities and trends

When: Thursday, January 30, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: New Jersey Institute of Technology, 155 Summit St., Newark

Why: To learn more about both the issues and the possibility of funding for U.S.-Israel technical collaborations

How: For more information and to register, go the Bird Fund’s website, www.birdf.com, and click on the link about halfway down on the right side, “Opportunities and Trends in the Homeland Security and Cyber Security Spaces,” or email Andrea Yonah andreay@birdf.com

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