Pre-IDF program seeking young women to train in cybersecurity skills
The Israel Defense Forces is looking to attract more young women into a pre-enlistment program focused on cybersecurity training that they can use during their military service – and when they enter the workforce in the years to come. .
The pre-military program falls under the IDF’s C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate, a branch responsible for the communications and technology activities of IDF forces in the field and the defense of cybersecurity in the military. (C4I stands for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence). The leadership reports to the Chief of Staff and works closely with the Operations Directorate, a branch responsible for planning the use of military force.
The C4I directorate manages the Military School of Informatics and Cyber Defense, which trains thousands of soldiers each year for various roles in the air force, navy and land forces. The school offers training programs such as software development, data analysis, DevOps (software development combined with computer operations) and cyber defense, and is led by Lt. Col. Liat Litvak who took his duties this summer.
Litvak told The Times of Israel in a recent interview that these programs have historically attracted fewer young women than men, and the school is working to change that with a specialized pre-military program, or mechine in Hebrew.
“We have ‘open houses’ where anyone can come in, get more information, sit down for a test, and if they pass, they can apply for the school. The test is for everyone and they don’t need any previous experience, but fewer women usually come, ”she explained, which is why the school has embarked on training for the preparation mechine.
“We want to reach people from all walks of life, educational and socio-economic, and not just those with computer literacy,” Litvak said.
After a selection exam that tests cognitive and mathematical abilities, successful applicants begin the seven-week preparatory program during which they learn skills such as programming basics, software development, and cyber defense principles, as well as as strategies such as how to conduct advanced research and set professional and personal goals. Emphasis is also placed on personalized approaches and weekly meetings with instructors who closely monitor students’ progress and help them design improvement plans.
“It’s a huge learning experience for them where we provide them with the tools to take the most rigorous and intense courses offered by the school,” said Litvak.
The 15-week cyber defense course, for example, where men and women study together, teaches more in-depth cybersecurity defense practices and skills as students prepare for their military service. “There are cyber games and hackathons, and smart city defense simulations, for example, and all kinds of related activities,” Litvak said.
Currently, some 80 young women are enrolled in the 15-week preparatory program, offered in central and southern Israel.
Private L, who participated in the mechine and then took a DevOps course, told The Times of Israel that the experience had put her on a path that she hadn’t previously realized could be possible.
“When I discovered the mechine, I didn’t know much about it at first, but I was certainly happy to have the opportunity to prove myself and enter the pre-military courses that I was not admitted to through traditional screening . The idea of taking a bunch of girls and getting the best out of them in IT spoke to me a lot and it gave me the motivation to keep going, ”said Private L, whose name full cannot be disclosed as its military role is classified.
She said the preparatory program was a stimulating but rewarding experience. “I learned so much professionally and about the military in general. In addition, the program included various fascinating social activities such as workshops, lectures on women’s empowerment, personal development and more. Almost a year after graduating from mechine, I can say that the skills I acquired are still useful to me today in my military service.
L said on mechine gave him the opportunity to enlist in his preferred post in the IDF and gave him the skills, such as independent learning and research, to do well.
Litvak said the measure of the school’s success is “to see more women in key positions in the Israeli military” as well as in the tech industry in the future.
The first results are encouraging. “In the last cyber defense course, 50% more women than men completed the program,” Litvak said, adding that she now sees around 40% more girls in all preparatory programs.
The cybersecurity industry in Israel
Israel is a major player in the global cybersecurity industry, with many entrepreneurs on the ground from elite IDF technology and intelligence units.
The sector has attracted massive investment and interest over the past decade. Israel represents the second-highest number of cybersecurity deals in the world, behind the United States and ahead of the United Kingdom, according to a 2018 report by New York-based data firm CB Insights.
In the first half of 2021 alone, Israeli cybersecurity firms raised $ 3.4 billion in 50 deals, and seven of them became unicorns, or private companies valued at over $ 1 billion, a Israel’s National Cyber Security Directorate declared in July.
The half-yearly figure represented 41% of total funds raised by cybersecurity firms globally and was three times the amount raised in the same period a year earlier, the data showed.
More than a third of the world’s cybersecurity unicorns are Israelis, according to the report, with about 13 in Israel out of 30-33 worldwide, the management said.
Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report.