The Rt Hon Francis Maude, Minister to the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General of Great Britain, came to Beer-Sheva on Tuesday for a working lunch at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev with the major players in the city’s evolving CyberSpark ecosystem.

Among his responsibilities, Francis Maude is in charge of delivering the UK’s national cyber security strategy. He was hosted by BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi, in the presence of UK Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould.

Rt Hon Francis Maude (Right) & Nimrod Kozlovski (Left)“As part of my Government's long-term economic plan, we want to make Britain one of the safest places to do business online. When I took office four and a half years ago, during a troubled economic period, we decided to spend more on cyber security as one of four top tier national security threats. The British government has spent 860 million pounds over five years but we want to learn from countries such as Israel who are also leaders in this field,” he said.

Francis Maude came to Beer-Sheva to hear about the unique collaboration between academia, industry and the security establishment that has rapidly bloomed in Beer-Sheva over the last two years to see how he can apply similar lessons in the UK.

Meeting with representatives of BGU, IBM, EMC, JVP Cyber Labs, and CyberSpark, Francis Maude saw for himself how they reduce turnaround between academic research and applications from years to months. He heard many examples of the paradigm shifting thinking that characterizes the research going on in Beer-Sheva.

Dr. Nimrod Kozlovski, Partner, Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), Cyber Labs explained how they supported a startup that went from creation to an evaluation of hundreds of millions of dollars in just nine months.

All agreed while the online world has grown exponentially, cyber security skills and capability are not increasing at a comparable rate. The consensus was that the ability to defend oneself in cyberspace depends upon a strong skills and knowledge base. Francis Maude and CyberSpark reinforced the message that working with academia and industry to improve cyber skills, education, research and opportunities to improve our knowledge base, building up a skilled workforce remains a vital pillar for cyberspace.

Fancis Maude said that after a visit to Silicon Valley earlier this year, he was convinced that cloud services were better protected than traditional systems. He noted that there were 11 academic centers of excellence working on building cyber skills in the UK.

Dr. Orna Berry, Corporate Vice-President, Growth and Innovation, EMC Centers of Excellence, EMEA and the US, said the goal was to take BGU research and do “rapid, applied science and integration.”

CyberSpark is a unique emerging ecosystem that will harness academia, industry and the security establishment to advance cyber security research and development. BGU’s research prowess and collaboration with industry anchor the initiative, while the IDF’s decision to move thousands of Technology and Intelligence Unit soldiers south will provide a once in a generation opportunity.

Roni Zehavi, CEO of CyberSpark, explained “each company has a distinct DNA yet we are working together to find the common ground for the benefit of all of the shareholders.”

Francis Maude met with the heads of the major cyber security laboratories, companies and incubators including: Prof. Dan Blumberg, Vice-President and Dean for Research and Development; Prof. Yuval Elovici, Department of Information Systems Engineering, Director, Telekom Innovation Laboratories at BGU (T-Labs), & Director of Cyber Security Labs at BGU; Dr. Yaron Wolfsthal, Head of IBM Center of Excellence at BGU (CCoE); and Dr. Yaniv Harel, GM of EMC Cyber Solutions, Beer-Sheva.