Cyber attacks aiming at destroying economies, Paris forum hears

Asaf Kochan, co-founder of Sentra, at Paris Cybersecurity Forum 2022  credit: Brett Kline
Asaf Kochan, co-founder of Sentra, at Paris Cybersecurity Forum 2022 credit: Brett Kline

Fifteen Israeli cybersecurity providers attended this year's Paris Cybersecurity Forum, where Sentra founder Asaf Kochan was a keynote speaker.

"Beyond the criminal ransomware and the search for data and intelligence, we now have certain states and proxy gangs engaging regularly in cyber attacks to disrupt and destroy rival economies, a newer form of cyber warfare," keynote speaker Asaf Kochan told the annual Paris Cybersecurity Forum. "And cyber-crime is flourishing."

The insider gathering put together by symposiarch Dominique Bourra and the France Israel Chamber of Commerce was held at CPME headquarters (the confederation of small and mid-sized businesses) in the huge, futuristic, vehicle-less La Défense complex on the western edge of the French capital. Fifteen Israeli cybersecurity providers were present, including four unicorns.

Kochan founded Israel- and New York-based Sentra in 2021. The company builds technology to help clients to prioritize their most sensitive data and to secure it on the cloud. "What data would produce the worst case scenario if it leaked, we ask clients," he explained. "They tell us their own client data is most important." According to Kochan, by 2026, 50% of the world’s companies will be at an advanced stage of migration of data storage to the cloud, and by 2030, all data will be stored there.

The reserve brigadier general needs no introduction in Israel. He headed the IDF Intelligence Unit 8200 from 2017-21. Thanks to this forum, many French company CISOs (chief information security officers) and other security figures present already knew of Unit 8200 as the rock-solid origin of so many Israeli civilian cybersecurity providers. This is the Israeli model.

Bourra and the forum brought the unit’s original founder, Nadav Zafrir, to Paris for the first time back in 2018, and then on the Zoom edition in 2020, in a one on one discussion with the chairman of giant French advertising group Publicis, Maurice Levy, also the founder of the high tech Vivatech show.

But the French were captivated by Asaf Kochan’s powerful low-key demeanor and captivating smile, and by his messages. His approach is interdisciplinary. "It is cryptocurrency fueling cybercrime in most cases," he stated point blank, "because it remains unregulated by countries and has full anonymity." At least for now. And cryptocurrency is here to stay.

Kochan told "Globes" that, regardless of its overall safety, cloud data storage does present very real risks. Firstly, the gigantic amounts of data being stored leads to companies losing control over where their key and most sensitive data assets are.

Secondly, there is a massive shortage worldwide of qualified workers in the cybersecurity industry, including on the cloud, where many of the most talented and capable security engineers want to work. This problem is increasing as the world’s dependency on computing grows exponentially and "must be addressed by private and public sectors."

And thirdly, the "exponential growth" of third party vendors who provide services and "sometimes receive permission to access data" can and does lead to malicious attacks.

Let’s leave the cloud and navigate back down to earth. The second keynote speaker, Alexsandr Yampolskiy, a Ukranian-Russian-New Yorker, founded Security Scorecard in the Big Apple in 2014. With 600 employees and clients in 46 countries, it is the world leader in cyberscoring, evaluating risk management, a technical business.

"The lowest scoring companies are in the legal and education fields," he told the gathering. He said he wanted to simplify KPIs, key performance indicators, to enable client CISOs to communicate better with board members, noting that "very often, company boards have trouble understanding cybersecurity, which is a communications problem." This is something heard very often in industry circles. He told me, "Generally speaking, we see what hackers see. Often, they already have much of this information."

"So in a sense, you are like good-guy hackers," I remarked.

"You might say that," he replied with a small smile. "And yes, hackers usually return stolen data when they are paid ransoms. If not, companies would not pay." He smiled again. Also present just before lunchtime for a short visit was Israel’s ambassador to France, Yael German, formerly mayor of Herzliya, the high-tech corridor in Israel, and a former health minister. She met with CISOs of certain large French companies.

Speaking of health, Oana Nedelcu is the Paris-based strategic account manager at ForeScout Technologies, founded in Tel Aviv in 2000 and now California-based, a world leader in network connected security, and also a unicorn. The highly publicized attack by the Russian cyber criminal group Lockbit on a major hospital in Corbeil-Essonnes, just south of Paris, at the end of August, and the ransom negotiated down to one million dollars by French "cyber police" officials, sent the sector, her specialty, spinning.

"There is suddenly a real sense of urgency in the health sector here," she told me. "Since the attack and data theft, I have been speaking with a good number of hospital CISOs. The attack scared many people."

Nedelcu told me, that for several days the hospital was forced to transfer patients elsewhere, information not published in the French press.

"Hackers can shut down daily operations," she noted. "And hospitals are easy targets."

The room was buzzing with rapid one-on-one "speed dating" sessions, always a strong feature of this forum. In between sessions, Thierry Kolton, France regional director at Israel-based Nanolock Security, said the company’s work with industrial sites meant "it has a somewhat different focus than other security providers. Often in factories, the threat can come from inside," he added. For example, an angry employee just laid off at a big bread factory tries to change the temperature of the ovens with his PC. "Our protection blocks all modification requests to critical code and data unless authorized," Kolton explained, calling it "zero-trust, device level protection in industrial infrastructure." He said he had spoken with some 15 people from French companies, and politely refused to name any of them, noting simply, "this is indeed an efficient forum."

Fatima Mesdour and Christophe Verité were winding down at the desk of Pentera, another Israeli unicorn provider. The Pentera Automated Security Validation platform helps more than 450 companies in 45 + countries to discover their security exposure by emulating real-life cyber attacks all day, every day.

"The simulated attacks are real time and automated, so, yes, you can say we are good guy hackers," commented Mesdour, with a laugh. " And we have many clients in northern Europe…Britain, Germany, the Nordic countries, but only 30 or so in France. Many of the French are afraid to say yes or no. Yet this is an important market."

Other Israeli cyber providers present included Cymulate, AquaSecurity (unicorn), Zimperium, Silverfort, Vicarius, Cyberint (second time), Wiz (unicorn) and Maor Investments.

The sole French cyber provider present, Hugues Thiebeauld, the head of Bordeaux-based eShard, focuses on testing of mobile phone devices and applications, often with clients in the banking sector. "We don’t work with many French companies, but we do work with many others in northern Europe," he said. "Some French corporates I speak with have an idea about cyber risks but don’t want to know more, something like knowing you are sick and not wanting to go to the doctor. But the Israelis, they know. They are at war." With a smile, he told of doing mobile application testing with Israeli banking officials in Tel Aviv, and finding breaches.

Sharon Isaaci, cyber security VP at Sygnia, a consulting firm that is part of Team8, the group headed by Nadav Zafrir, commented, "This is a real insider forum, great to advance in the French market. I had good conversations here. We do not sell our technology, but use it to try to become trusted advisors to clients. And it is true that when you have not experienced cyber theft and destruction, it can be tough to imagine it."

Isaaci gave a masterclass, a new feature at the forum, with a real-life case of a nation state attacking a private transportation and logistics company in a certain unnamed country. "It went from spying to destruction, wiping out data and harassing employees," he explained. "With our 360° support…technical, legal, insurance, negotiation with hackers…we saved the company." He then drew on his 20 years in Israeli military intelligence, noting "Cyber attacks in warfare are a real trend. When the Russians attack cell coms and power grids in Ukraine, millions of people are affected. They carried out similar operations previously in Georgia and in Ukraine, but not on this current level.. And when they launch operations in ports involving hazardous material, it can create environmental disasters."

This is once again a transversal discussion, something vital for Dominique Bourra. "The most important thing for me is the interdisciplinary approach, not the technical aspects but rather the gouvernance, the managing of the cyber technology," he explained. "It comes from the word in Greek 'kuberno', meaning to steer or to govern, the origin of the word "cyber." At this forum I must be en avance de phase, ahead of the game, a visionary. Cyber governance is part of the survival of the planet."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on October 25, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Asaf Kochan, co-founder of Sentra, at Paris Cybersecurity Forum 2022  credit: Brett Kline
Asaf Kochan, co-founder of Sentra, at Paris Cybersecurity Forum 2022 credit: Brett Kline
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