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Two Mideast nations that were at odds until recently have announced the "Crystal Ball" project, aimed at better protecting against cyberattacks via collaboration and knowledge sharing.

UAE and Israel flags as jigsaw pieces
Source: Olekcii Mach via Alamy Stock Photo

In a watershed moment for two once-fractious regional neighbors, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel are to work together on a threat intelligence-sharing platform to battle cybersecurity threats.

Announced this week, the “Crystal Ball” project is a digital platform for detecting and repelling hackers via collaboration and knowledge sharing around national-level cyberthreats. It was described as being enabled to "design, deploy and enable regional intelligence enhancement," according to a presentation slide seen during this week's Tel Aviv Cyber Week.

The project will be backed by Microsoft, Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and Abu Dhabi's CPX, and an unspecified number of countries will also participate, according to The Circuit.

The Need for a Joined-up Response

Emirati cybersecurity chief Mohamed Al Kuwaiti said the platform will enable partner countries to "easily and seamlessly share information," and will be strengthened by the combination of the countries' joint abilities, processing power, and a high volume of data.

In an address to the Cyber Week conference, Al Kuwaiti said, "Cyber threats do not distinguish between nations, do not distinguish between entities or people, and that is why we need to unite against those threats. The Crystal Ball that we are aiming for the whole community will be the first step toward that."

Nadir Izrael, co-founder and CTO of Armis, says he welcomes the joint effort in the Middle East because he is "a strong believer that nations need to work together to develop a comprehensive and effective response to cyber warfare, in order to build a more secure and resilient world."

He adds: "As we saw with the cyberattacks on Israel this late April, coordinated efforts from groups associated with Iran and Russia are looking to increase geopolitical tensions and create instability amongst citizens. In a world that has become polarized, it is a must to invest in cybersecurity measures to protect whole nations from these kinds of attacks."

Izrael also noted that the Crystal Ball project should be a model for others. "Governments and organizations need to take threats seriously, and allocate resources to build robust and resilient cybersecurity systems," he says. "Those advanced systems will allow for threat intelligence, which can help detect malicious behavior and stop an attack even before it happens."

Improved Diplomatic Relations

Al Kuwaiti said the UAE's connection with Israeli tech companies has been especially helpful in his country's transition to a digital economy, after the UAE and Israel normalized diplomatic relations as part of the September 2020 Abraham Accords, leading to the bolstering of both commercial and strategic ties between the countries.

Ryan Westman, senior manager of threat intelligence at eSentire, says the collaboration of threat intelligence sharing between Israel and the UAE will be key to better securing the region. "In general, any information-sharing agreement will likely benefit organizations in the countries covered, as the more insights we have on threats and vulnerabilities to organizations, the better the job we can do at responding to those the risk those threats and vulnerabilities present," he says. "By sharing information on those threats and vulnerabilities, the easier it is for security teams to respond to the risks." 

He notes that while information sharing and analysis centers (ISACs) have existed for some time now and are not novel, the collaboration between two states that used to be at geopolitical odds is notable.

"Partnerships like this can have a wider impact, improving the security posture for everyone, because it makes it easier to detect potential issues in the wider threat landscape," he says. "Working together in this way benefits everyone, whether they are in the two countries concerned or in others within the region."

About the Author(s)

Dan Raywood, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

With more than 20 years experience of B2B journalism, including 12 years covering cybersecurity, Dan Raywood brings a wealth of experience and information security knowledge to the table. He has covered everything from the rise of APTs, nation-state hackers, and hacktivists, to data breaches and the increase in government regulation to better protect citizens and hold businesses to account. Dan is based in the U.K., and when not working, he spends his time stopping his cats from walking over his keyboard and worrying about the (Tottenham) Spurs’ next match.

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