By Rachael King/WSJ.com
IDT Corp. plans to begin a cybersecurity “yeshiva” in September where 40 students will study computer science and the Torah, the central text of the Jewish religion. A yeshiva is a Jewish school that focuses on the study of the Torah and other texts.
The program is aimed at solving two problems: creating more cybersecurity professionals to fill vacant jobs industry-wide and generating a career path for people who live in economically disadvantaged communities. The school will be held at IDT corporate headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. Many of the first students will likely come from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and the Chabad-Lubavitch community – among the world’s largest Hasidic Jewish groups — where IDT Chief Security Officer and program co-founder Golan Ben-Oni lives.
The industry is lacking cybersecurity expertise and it’s become a problem for companies who are the victims of data breaches, said Nir Zuk, the co-founder and chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks Inc. Whoever gets breached tries to position it as a sophisticated cyberattack that nobody could have prevented, he said. “In reality, at least half of these data breaches are not about the sophistication of the attacker, they’re about the incompetency of the defender,” he said. Mr. Ben-Oni is trying to create a pool of experts that can deal with the really sophisticated attacks, he added. Palo Alto Networks plans to contribute funds to the program but it has not yet revealed the amount, he said.
In addition to housing the program, IDT is contributing its human resources, payroll and secretarial workforce. IDT Chairman Howard Jonas has championed the effort and IDT plans to donate about $500,000, said Mr. Ben-Oni.
“In our culture, during the first year of marriage, generally the men take a year to study the Torah,” said Mr. Ben-Oni. The Lubavitch rebbe or rabbi wanted the men to do something after that first year such as going out and becoming a Lubavitch emissary to run community programs or to get a job, he said. By combining obligatory Torah study with a much-demanded skill, the cyber-yeshiva improves employment prospects for community members who have had trouble finding jobs. “There are a lot of people who don’t know what to do with themselves – they’re the perfect candidates,” said Mr. Ben-Oni.
At IDT, Mr. Ben-Oni had already helped start a technical program called IDT Yeshiva about 15 years ago to train students to become Cisco Systems Inc. networking engineers. After the dot com bubble burst in 2001, though, that program changed focus and atrophied. IDT’s Mr. Jonas asked Mr. Ben-Oni to get involved to reinvigorate the program. So, over the last year, Mr. Ben-Oni has been working to reset the program with a focus on producing cybersecurity professionals through two-year and four-year programs. Essex County College is providing the new program with the accreditation needed.
Over the years, Mr. Ben-Oni has also taught some of his fellow community members about cybersecurity. He’s discovered that the analytical skills taught to those studying the Torah are a good match for work in the security field. Already, other companies have begun to contact him about hiring graduates, he said.