It was a busy week in Tel Aviv — from Jan. 29–31, more than 13,500 attendees engaged with 146 speakers across a range of technology disciplines and sectors at the fifth annual CyberTech Israel conference.

One event high point was the keynote speech from IBM Security General Manager Marc van Zadelhoff, who delivered a powerful talk about the current state of cybersecurity, what’s next for enterprises struggling to shore up security and how organizations can prepare for long-term challenges. Here’s a look at the highlights.

CyberTech Israel Points to a Brighter Future

Van Zadelhoff started his talk on a decidedly positive note, declaring, “I have the immense pleasure of working at a company that is trying to figure out how technology can make the planet a much better place for all of us to live.” He called out several specific examples of how technology can “do positive things for our society,” including IBM Watson Health, which to date has helped medical professionals diagnose more than 50,000 patients. Ultimately, van Zadelhoff and IBM believe that “security and technology can truly improve the world,” from delivering accurate medical diagnoses to safeguarding corporate networks.

As Watson illustrates, the age AI has arrived. IBM Security’s GM described seeing the progression of AI on a per-industry basis and noted that “this is going to expand immensely as AI becomes pervasive.” And this pervasiveness isn’t some distant, long-term goal. Van Zadelhoff insisted that “objects are closer than they appear” when it comes to the effective uptake of AI.

Time to Move on From the Basics

After pointing out the great potential of AI to alter the cybersecurity playing field, van Zadelhoff acknowledged that “anything that is used for good can also be used to attack.” He recognized that despite rapid technological advances, many companies still struggle with security fundamentals such as changing default passwords, limiting privileged access and segmenting networks. It’s time to get these issues of basic security solved once and for all, he argued, “because there’s a war coming between good AI and bad AI.”

More specifically, companies need to get their security in order and then opt-in to advanced AI solutions. That starts with a recognition that cybersecurity is effectively a public health crisis: In addition to specific technological treatments, behavioral changes are also necessary if organizations want to improve long-term outcomes. This means taking the time to educate employees, draft solid policy and make sure infrastructure backbones are ready to support the weight of new solutions.

So, What’s Next?

So what happens when AI starts disrupting operations like the cloud did 10 years ago? According to van Zadelhoff, companies need to embrace AI solutions and establish a response plan to help them cope with the new cybersecurity landscape. Unlike any human analyst, Watson is capable of reading all 60,000 cybersecurity blogs now published every month, and as van Zadelhoff emphasized, “Watson doesn’t get tired and Watson doesn’t forget.”

With attackers already leveraging AI-based malware, it’s now critical for companies to leverage tools like Watson for Cyber Security and IBM Command Centers to centralize cybersecurity data, develop actionable and effective incident response plans and make informed, data-driven decisions.

Marc van Zadelhoff’s keynote at CyberTech Israel calls into sharp relief what many companies already know but are not ready to accept: Broad-spectrum AI and quantum computing aren’t far off, and they will fundamentally change the cybersecurity landscape. AI-driven defenses, cognitive security and the recognition that security is a collaborative corporate effort underpin the positive impact of emerging technologies and offer the promise of a brighter — and more secure — tomorrow.

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