Most young men in Israel devote about three years of their lives to military service. Yaniv Avidan went over and above the call of duty, giving ten years of service to his country. Upon discharge from the army, he enrolled at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and got his B.Sc. in Information Systems Engineering.
During this time, Avidan worked for the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and later for Intel as applications developer and a database expert. He returned to the Ministry of Defense to work on a large-scale project that he managed for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). This project was a government-level battlefield simulation system. It was very complex, incorporating multi-discipline technologies from real-time communication relay software, machine learning, and various other technologies.
A few years later, Avidan joined a private company whose expertise was with business intelligence. He catered to major accounts in Israel and Europe, serving as the advanced analytics projects division manager. Avidan led this company to a significant increase in revenue in business intelligence and machine learning projects.
Soon after, Intel sought him out again, this time to lead a corporate level program of cybersecurity analytics. “I reported to the CISO and managed multiple teams of subject matter experts in the U.S. and in Israel,” says Avidan. “Much of the development and data science came out of Israel. I spent a lot of time with the teams in the U.S. developing internal protection solutions against cyberattacks. I also spent a lot of time with McAfee, which was acquired by Intel, on various projects.”
All of this background experience exposed Avidan to the cyber world and gave him the hands-on know-how to come up with sophisticated data-oriented solutions to identify advanced persistent threats. “I learned that field very thoroughly, alongside with very talented colleagues,” says Avidan. “Over time, I was thinking about these advanced attacks that are committed by actors who are either insiders or from outside of the company. And the main reason to commit those kinds of attacks is to get the data. They want to put their hands on the data, get it out and monetize on this data.”
In late 2014, Avidan and two associates, Avner Atias and Gideon Barak, incorporated MinerEye to address the issues of identifying and tracking critical data and protecting it from attackers. “As I thought about this problem, I wondered why we are chasing the bad actor, rather than identifying those crown jewels and protecting them specifically from these actors—especially when the chance to identify the actors before they infiltrate into the company’s network is close to zero,” according to Avidan. “Every company should consider that at any given time there is most likely a cyberattack already happening inside the company. The challenge shifts from identifying that attack, which is pretty much a needle in a haystack, to identifying the data that needs to be protected and focusing the efforts on securing that specific data. This is what MinerEye does.”
Avidan explains the approach that MinerEye uses. “We deeply understand the main limitations around identifying and classifying data, which first has to do with the sheer amount of information within an enterprise-class company. We sometimes talk about hundreds of millions of files. So first, we need to triage, sort, identify, and take out of this mountain of information the specific data that is considered sensitive. We do this without human intervention, since human beings cannot process this amount of data manually.”
Avidan says the second challenge his company’s technology has to overcome is the dynamic nature of data, meaning the movement of information across forms and files and types. “For instance, consider that your own CV, which originally was written in a Word document, could travel through PDF, a PowerPoint presentation, maybe Twitter, or Facebook, or LinkedIn,” he says. “Those are totally different forms of the same information, same data, which holds the same class, essentially. This is another huge challenge that this kind of technology should overcome.”
A third challenge is the pace of data creation. “IBM estimates that 90 percent of the data in existence today was produced in the last two years.” says Avidan. “This gives you a sense about the pace at which we are creating new data. Any solution to protect this data must outpace data creation.”
“We took to the lab for a little over a year and developed algorithms around the concepts of how we could solve those three big challenges,” says Avidan. “Once our approach was proven, we understood that we solved one of the biggest problems in the data world, which is automated data classification and tracking. We started to develop the product and about a year and a half since then, we are a growing company. We already have professional services in the U.S., with a unique commercial product, two patents that are pending, and initial paying customers in the U.S. and Europe.” Avidan says the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and elsewhere is really driving interest in his company’s product.
On a personal note, Avidan is married with six children. His wife Osnat is an HR manager with Intel, which is where they met. The family lives in a small village near Jerusalem. “It’s a beautiful place,” he says. “We call it the Little Tuscany. There are a lot of vineyards and olive trees there, and a lot of good mountain air.” When he finds time, Avidan likes to paint oil on canvas. It’s a great way to relax after working so hard to support his newest business venture.