You may never have heard of Gil Shwed, yet there’s every likelihood that your home or business is using internet security software that has been designed, or influenced, by the company he founded, Check Point. Shwed is an Israeli programmer and entrepreneur who is rightly regarded as one of the founding fathers of modern Internet security.
Starting at the age of 12 writing software, by the age of 24 Shwed had formed his own internet security company Check Point with two business partners from his grandmother’s apartment in Tel Aviv. Check Point created the very first firewall, using what has become known as ‘stateful inspection’ – the second-generation firewall technology that is still widely used today. Given that hacking has since become big business, this technology has proved to be of vital importance. To put it into context, Interpol estimates that the global cost of hacking annually is $1 trillion. The company founded in his grandmother’s Tel Aviv apartment now employs 3,000 staff, creates security software used by every Fortune 100 company and accounts for one third of the global security market.
How the cyber threat environment has changed
In an interview with CNN, Shwed explained how the security threat environment has changed over the last two decades, and what measures his company is taking to minimise the growing threat presented by the greater sharing of information through technologies like the Cloud:
“Twenty years ago, the typical hacker was like a student trying to show his technical skills with no bad intentions. Today it’s governments – sophisticated organizations. Every business today is facing hundreds, if not thousands of attacks. These attacks can go from small things that slow you down to bad things that will stop your business immediately.”
The reasons and motivations for the escalation of hacking can vary from case to case, according to the software entrepreneur:
“That motivation can be political, it can be financial — stealing data or things like that, or it can be extortion. The extortion could take the form of a threat to take down a network if a sum was not paid, or a more subtle approach. We’ve seen several cases where somebody calls an organization and says ‘I’m a security researcher, I’ve found that your company is being targeted. I’ll let you know how to block it if you pay me my consulting fees.’ It can start from small amounts, $5000 to $15000.”
What has changed in his opinion is that increasingly everybody who uses a computer has become a potential target: it’s no longer just large companies and organisations. Home computer users are now targets too; they’re subject to general attacks and cyber threats which are aimed at security vulnerabilities:
“The general break-ins are not happening by targeted attacks; by somebody trying to attack you or your organization. The general attacks (come through) tools that scan the Internet and find the place to break in — and wherever they can break in, they’ll break into.”
So how is Check Point hoping to deal with this problem?
Check Point has designed a new product called ThreatCloud, which it bills as the first collaborative approach to fighting cybercrime:
“One of the things we realized about two years ago is that today every company and every person in the world fights cyber threats individually. We all install systems: we’re all being attacked, in many cases, by the same people, thousands of times a day.”
“So what we came up with was that idea of a threat cloud. And ThreatCloud is like a collaboration network — whenever a customer network sees an attack or sees something suspicious, it reports to the ThreatCloud service (which) analyses threats from multiple sources.”
“If it finds out that it’s actually an attack, it can automatically update the rest of the world and lets everybody enjoy that intelligence, that know-how that some attack has been happening and everybody should block that source.”