They call it the 8200 Unit, an elite part of the Israeli Defense Force that is becoming the training ground for some of the hottest cybersecurity companies in the world.
The 8200 Unit is part of the country's intelligence division, and veterans from that unit have given rise to a booming cybersecurity industry. Currently, there are more than 400 cybersecurity companies active in Israel, a country that is only slightly larger than the state of New Jersey. Many of those companies are working with automakers to tackle a host of security issues with connected and self-driving cars.
"Israel is without a doubt a complex country, but as far as cybersecurity goes, we are ahead of most of the countries in the world, and we have been ahead of most of the countries in the world for the past 20 years," said Yuval Diskin, former director of Israel's internal security service and chairman of Cymotive. "It all started because of the government that realized that threats to our security are out there not just on a military level regarding the people — but also in cyberspace."
Israel faces hundreds of cyberattacks each month on government websites and data systems. This year, the Israel Defense Forces issued a rare press release concerning the 8200 Unit, claiming the group prevented an ISIS air attack against a Western country in 2017.
The Israeli army, intelligence agency Mossad and domestic security agency Shabak focus on recruiting young computer wizards with strong language skills when they join the armed forces at the mandatory age of 18.
"Every year, people full of energy, hunger and exceptional abilities enter the unit," said an unnamed 8200 Unit officer in the press release announcing the thwarted ISIS attack. "They bring with them a lot of power and extraordinary ways of thinking, so we are able to handle problems that weren't able to be solved until now."