Shira Kaplan Cyverse
Text: Eric Johnson/Images: Markus Bertschi

Bond, Jane Bond

Shira Kaplan: elite military service, a degree from Harvard, Mandarin studies in Beijing, and a stint in private banking – how do you top all that? Try starting up a company that specialises in cyber security from Israel.

“Israel is exposed to millions of cyberattacks every day.”

You have a very diverse background. Still, how did you get into cyber security?

As an Israeli citizen, at 18 I was drafted into the military, and I was assigned to Unit 8200. This is the crème de la crème of intelligence (comparable to the United States’ National Security Agency or the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters). There you see technologies and ideas that only years later are adopted in the civilian world. 8200 also serves as a sort of “tech incubator”. Among others, IT security companies such as Checkpoint and Palo Alto Networks have their roots here. Just as in Switzerland, military friendships and networks in Israel run deep, so after a decade of studying and working, I decided to return to my military/​security connections.

Presumably, Israel is more advanced in cyber security than most countries?

Not just presumably! Israel is exposed to millions of cyberattacks every day: on the national electric grid, on the water supply, on the banking system, everywhere. To keep up, the country has no choice but to be innovative.

“Both Swiss and Israelis are innovative, just in very different ways.”

Cyverse, your company, what role does it play?

First, we are a cyber security consultant. We leverage talent and know-how in Israel and deliver it to corporations and governments in Europe, and, in due course, to the rest of world. So we go to, say, pharmaceutical firms and big banks, help them identify security problems, and open up our Israeli toolbox to find solutions. These can be services such as penetration testing or security assessments, and they can be technical solutions such as software that detects cyber-security events in your IT network. Second, we are a broker. We help Israeli security companies to find customers and funding, and we help investors to find those companies as investments.

So you have one foot in Israel. Why is the other in Switzerland?

This country is the global hub for so many multinational corporations. In a small geography, you have a lot of multi-billion dollar/franc companies: in pharma, banking, insurance, food and beverages. In Israel, cyber security has been a mainstream issue for at least five years, but here it has become truly big only in the past 12–18 months. Switzerland is looking for cyber solutions. So, why not start here? If we can make it here, we can make it anywhere.

“Switzerland is a global hub. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

What is the single largest threat in cyber security today?

In the private sector, it is an “inside job”. Either an employee turns against you, or, more often, an external attacker takes over an employee’s credentials, and uses them to access your crown jewels. So this attacker is crawling through your system, stealing business information, intellectual property, sensitive data about clients – and money, of course. There is a whole dark economy out there where these can be sold: everything has its black market price. At the national level, the biggest threat is cyber terrorism. Recently, there was an assault on the Ukraine’s electricity grid; there was a breach at a Belgian nuclear plant. The biggest nightmare is that terrorists could hack their way into these networks – even, say, into the train network – and manipulate them in a harmful way.

You travel regularly between Israel and Switzerland – how do you contrast the two?

Israel and Switzerland are the negative and the positive of the same photograph. They couldn’t be more different. Israelis are innovative, spontaneous, aggressive, non-traditional, non-hierarchical, informal  – they are in your face! Swiss are also innovative, but in a very reserved manner, much more conservative and formal. So a big part of our work at Cyverse is to act as cultural trans­­lators. The Swiss expect what I call the two ‘Ts’: trust and track record. We help the Israelis establish these with them. Israelis also like to move very fast – we help them to slow down.

Here you’ll find Shira Kaplan’s favourite recipe. Why not try them out yourself?

Anat Bar-Gera, Chairwoman Cyverse at TedX

Welcome to Cyverse

Shira Kaplan has packed more into 33 years than most do in twice as many. After military service, studies in the USA and China, and several jobs, in 2014 the Israeli national founded a cyber security firm called Cyverse, based in Küsnacht on Zurich’s Gold Coast. Kaplan lives nearby with her husband and their two young daughters.