Hardening defenses to protect data

Israeli companies are in the forefront of developing systems that guard computer networks against cyberterror attacks.While protecting sensitive online data from hackers and malicious viruses always has concerned most U.S. companies and government agencies, it’s the Israelis who have a …

Israeli companies are in the forefront of developing systems that guard computer networks against cyberterror attacks.While protecting sensitive online data from hackers and malicious viruses always has concerned most U.S. companies and government agencies, it’s the Israelis who have a truly deep sense of security and the technology to enforce it. Several Israeli companies offer online security solutions from stronger firewalls and encryption to Internet application protection.

Since Sept. 11, a serious cyberterrorist attack that could disable U.S. infrastructure seems more realistic and companies find themselves more concerned with online security than ever. According to research firm IDC, network security in the U.S. will grow 24 percent a year between now and 2005. One of the first steps to a secure network is to reinforce the firewalls standing between users and data. But even the strongest firewalls can have gaps. That’s where a product like Whale Communications’ e-Gap Security System comes into play.

Based in Israel with offices in New Jersey, Whale Communications was founded in 1998 with the goal of keeping critical systems offline while still interacting externally. While this might sound like a new idea, it’s based on the traditional way information was downloaded and uploaded before complete connectivity became popular. For example, before networks existed, most military and government information was downloaded from one site onto a disk, inspected, then manually uploaded to another site.

“We took this concept and ‘high-teched it,’” says Elad Baron, Whale Communications chief executive officer.

Whale’s product suite is called the e-Gap system and includes protection for networks, web applications and e-mail. It’s the e-Gap Network Separator that allows the secure, real-time transfer of data between disconnected networks. It works using two servers, one connected to the Internet and one to the secure network. The e-Gap system receives data from one source and transfers it to the other, but only after disconnecting from the memory device first. The e-Gap system makes this once manual process happen thousands of times per second, Baron says.

E-Gap plugs up the holes other protection measures – like encryption and firewalls – leave open. With encryption, everything is hidden, including hackers’ activities. Firewalls are either open or closed. When they’re open, saboteurs can see inside as clearly as administrators can see outside. When they’re closed, users can’t access needed applications. Since Sept. 11, the inclination is to keep the gates closed, Baron says.

“A year ago, the question was, ‘What is the worst that could happen?’ Now, you don’t hear those kinds of things,” he says. “The assumption is that there are people who do have different interests than you.”

In Israel, companies and government agencies have existed with the reality of cyberterrorism for so long that “you almost get used to it,” says Baron. In the U.S., many organizations are just beginning to get serious about online security. While how much and what data to protect is up to the organization, performing a risk assessment is the first step – and realizing it may take some time to ensure systems are truly safeguarded.

“There are no magic solutions,” says Baron. “You can’t put the network in a black box and suddenly all the mistakes the programmer made are solved.”