'If Jeff Bezos’ Phone Was Hacked, Then No One Is Safe'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: Check Point employees who believe the only way to truly protect yourself in cyberspace is to dump your computer and cellphone, and a group of Italian designers explain why they moved to Amsterdam

Abigail Maines and Ron Dekker.
Meged Gozani

Abigail Maines, 42, lives in Austin, Texas; and Ron Dekker, 58, lives in Toronto; arriving from Toronto

You look a little tired.

Abigail: I’m after 18 hours of flying.

Ron: But give her one cup of coffee and she’s just like new. Luckily the connecting flight here was only nine and a half hours. There was a west wind.

What will you do in Israel?

Abigail: We work at Check Point.

Ron: There’s a salespersons’ conference. I hope we’ll have fun. Meetings and tai chi.

Abigail: Last week we had a team meeting and axe throwing.

What??

Abigail: Turns out that it takes a lot of strength and you have to throw the axe with two hands.

Ron: We sell trust, so it has to be created first of all among the team itself. We had a meeting that took place in a wave pool.

Abigail: I’ll miss the tai chi this time, because I’m returning before that. I have a 7-year-old daughter who counts how many hours I’ll be gone, not how many days. I also have an older son, of 23; when I told him I was going to Israel he took it in his stride.

First time in Israel?

Abigail: Yes, and I’m excited to be here. We heard that Tel Aviv is like New York, but someone else told me that it reminds him more of San Francisco. Or Austin. Because we have a lot of nightlife, too.

What do you do at Check Point?

Abigail: Ron manages Check Point Canada.

Ron: Abigail manages the channels in America. She works with people who sell our product to salespeople. It’s not easy to sell people on sales.

Try to sell me Check Point.

Ron: Check Point created the first firewall, and I think that in network security it’s the strongest company at the moment. Cyberterrorism has already brought down airlines, governments and hospitals, so I think we’re doing important work. I’ve seen things we did that helped, and I saw what happened when we weren’t there. Check Point has been around for 25 years, and was basically born and is still developing here in Israel. Almost all the research and development is done here. Israel is the DNA of Check Point.

You were scary and you played on patriotism – very effective.

Abigail: We have a lot of women: vice president of products, research & development (Dorit Dor) and chief financial officer (Tal Payne), and that really speaks to me.

Feminism, a good move. Is there really anything to be afraid of? My antivirus hasn’t been updated for years, and the computer is a bit slow, but everything is fine, knock on wood.

Ron: There definitely is. There are all kinds of programs today that lock your computer or your phone and demand a “ransom” – meaning, you have to pay us such and such an amount now in Bitcoin, otherwise we’ll take all your pictures. Today you can go into Darknet and within a quarter of an hour buy that kind of extortion as a service. You can even download programs like that for free. What does a person do if someone suddenly gets into his phone or computer and says, “If you don’t send us money, we’ll tell the boss that you used a porn site”?

Pay up?

Ron: Of course. And you have to understand that it’s not just private individuals. For example, what will a hospital do if its computer system suddenly locks? Most people are already infected today anyway, but with programs that steal energy from the computer. You said your computer was working more slowly, so you know what I’m talking about.

Is there anything to do about it? And don’t say “Check Point.”

Ron: Don’t keep personal information on the web, don’t click on emails you don’t recognize, don’t go into emails just like that, not even something like “free pizza,” which is a deceptive email. After all, it’s not “you’ve won a million dollars,” just something very small that you really might win, but then you open the email and the program has already uploaded. Actually, I would say that the only way to be completely protected is not to have a computer or a cellphone. A cellphone is quite dangerous. If Jeff Bezos’ phone was hacked, then no one is safe – even if they’re not having an affair.

From left, Mattia Phossati, Enrico Boca and Laura Palermo.
Meged Gozani

From left, Mattia Phossati, 30, Enrico Boca, 38, and Laura Palermo, 34; live in Amsterdam and flying there

Hello, can I ask you what you did in Israel?

Mattia: We were at the wedding of a colleague.

And what do you do in Amsterdam?

Mattia: Enrica and I work together, we’re designers. Laura is my girlfriend.

Enrica: We’re all Italians. I’m from Venice, Mattia is from Turin and Laura is from Milan.

Mattia: There’s a lot of design work in Italy, but also more designers, so in a certain sense it’s actually easier to be Italian designers outside of Italy.

Why Amsterdam?

Enrica: It’s a nice city, except that apartments are very expensive and it’s hard to find something decent in the center. But it’s a dynamic city with lots of night life, shows, music.

Mattia: You get a little of everything there. We go to a lot of clubs.

Enrica: There are also a lot of rock concerts – everyone doing a European tour plays Amsterdam.

Laura: And there’s a big festival called AMF, a week of concerts, with every deejay in the world.

Mattia: But this year we didn’t go, we took a break.

Do you miss home?

Mattia: We miss the food and the weather.

Enrica: Yes, it’s cold and rainy there, compared to Italy.

Mattia: I won’t stay my whole life, but at the moment we aren’t thinking of going back. Maybe in another 10 years.

Enrica: One of the good things about Amsterdam is that it opens your mind. There’s always someone to talk to, with whom to exchange opinions. People from all over the world.

Mattia: In our studio there are people from about 30 different countries.

Enrica: It’s inspiring. There are so many foreigners, so we’re all outsiders.

What do you do in the studio?

Enrica: We design items such as furniture, lamps, chairs.

Mattia: We don’t manufacture anything. Companies come to us, we do the design and they build the production line.

Enrica: There are brands we work with that started with one product and yet today we deal with everything, from the product itself to the advertising. Of course, when you want to convey a certain message and you deal with the whole package, that makes for better work.

Is there a project you are especially proud of?

Mattia: We designed a line of furniture inspired by globetrotters. It was an eclectic collection, and every object in it – sofas, armchairs, tables – was influenced by something else, by different materials, by a different place in the world. We made a table inspired by Paris, and because women there wear stockings we designed something like socks for it – which can be changed. We designed a sofa on which the armrests looked like a hot-air balloon. But it was very light and delicate.

Laura, are you also a designer?

Laura: I worked in design, but now manage campaigns to heighten companies’ awareness of the law, such as about sexual harassment. Besides the campaigns, we give employees someone to report to if something bad happens. For example, if a manager hassles a female employee, people may choose not to speak out, because they are afraid for themselves. People want to feel protected, and then they talk. There are urgent and less urgent issues in this area, but inappropriate behavior is common all over the world.

Is there a connection between design and legal compliance?

Laura: There is, actually, because a large part of my job is reaching people, dealing with tough issues. So the background in design and the approach that puts the user in the center really helps me touch people – because if they don’t feel it in their heart and head, and it’s just something they’re obliged to do, it’s a lot less effective. People, and it makes no difference where they’re from, aren’t always prepared to behave morally. People can be hard and even wicked to one another. Sometimes it amazes me how complex it is to be a moral person.