From the conference "Constructing Cybersecurity: Protecting Our Digital Infrastructure" on Sept 3, 2009 at the Institute for Public Policy, Rice University. Photo by Ed Schipul.
From the conference "Constructing Cybersecurity: Protecting Our Digital Infrastructure" on Sept 3, 2009 at the Institute for Public Policy, Rice University. Photo by Ed Schipul.

The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce commissioned a 2014 study of the local cybersecurity industry that ranked San Antonio second behind the Washington, D.C. area in terms of having the largest concentration of jobs and an environment where companies, talent, and educational institutions all come together to support cybersecurity sector growth.

This week, San Antonio and the state of Texas are showcasing the growing cybersecurity sector with the inaugural  CyberTexas/CyberIOT conference. The lectures, workshops, and keynote speakers will follow the theme, “Securing the Internet of Things,” this Thursday and Friday at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

Cybersecurity represents a growing local employment sector with increasingly vital information technology (IT) applications in private commerce and individual use, the public sector, the military, and academia. The conference comes as the number of cyberattacks rises on the world stage, something the New York Times reported last week in regards to Iran’s non-nuclear strategy.

CyberTexas hopes to serve as an ongoing platform for education and skill development of cyber professionals and job creation, identifying opportunities for related growth in the private/public sector, and showcasing those skills and successes to a wider audience of potential customers and policymakers. The Federal Business Council is co-presenting the CyberTexas conference.

The CyberTexas conference will have an array of prominent guest speakers – entrepreneurs, military leaders, lawmakers, and academics – addressing general cybersecurity, information sharing, educating a cyber workforce, and defining cyber warfare.

There will be a cyber job fair on Thursday, featuring more than 40 sponsors and exhibitors on the convention floor both days of the event.

Mayor Ivy Taylor will welcome conference attendees and deliver opening remarks on Thursday morning. Her appearance will be followed by keynote addresses from Suzanne Vautrinot, president of Kilovolt Consulting and former commander of the 24th Air Force and Air Force Cyber Command, and Edward Scheidt, founder of Tec Sec and retired chairman of the Central Intelligence Agency Cryptographic Center.

Several locals will be part of presentations and panel discussions, including U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio), the freshman Congressman and former CIA operative; and Dr. Greg White, director of the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Back-to-back sessions will feature Maj. Gen. John Shanahan, commander of the 25th Air Force, and Maj. Gen. Burke Wilson, commander of the 24th Air Force. Both cybersecurity/intelligence organizations are housed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

San Antonio Economic Development Foundation President Mario Hernandez
San Antonio Economic Development Foundation President Mario Hernandez

Mario Hernandez, president and CEO of the event’s co-sponsor, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation (SAEDF), will present “Making a Difference: San Antonio Cybersecurity Start-ups Disrupting the Market.” Hernandez said he looks forward to telling a story to cyber industry leaders and innovators about San Antonio’s economic development successes and opportunities.

“My remarks will focus on the future of economic development for San Antonio, particularly for (the cybersecurity) industry and its impact on our local economy, as well as the emerging startup community that is propelling that growth,” Hernandez said.

“The horizon is clearly becoming a landscape for our growing IT/IS(Information Security) and cyber industry due in large part to our military and federal intelligence community, our higher education institutions, and busy business incubators, where the ideas and plans for startups are seeded and cultivated.”

Last October, ahead of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s Cybersecurity Summit, when findings in the chamber’s study were released, Hernandez told the San Antonio Business Journal that San Antonio is a cybersecurity hub because it has instant access to a constant stream of talent emerging from the 24th Air Force Cyber Command, as well as the presence of several intelligence/cybersecurity military agencies and long-established local IT and cybersecurity companies such as Digital Defense, KGS and MDI Security Systems.

So, how big has San Antonio become in cybersecurity circles nationwide? According to the SAEDF, the city is home to the second largest concentration of data centers in the United States, including the construction of the Microsoft regional megacenter on the far Northwest side. The city is home to nearly 900 U.S. Department of Labor-designated IT companies. More than 80 firms are in the San Antonio Defense Technology Cluster.

The 24th Air Force, also known as the Cyber Command, is based at Lackland Annex. The mission protects the integrity of military computer systems worldwide against cyberattacks. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.
The 24th Air Force, also known as the Cyber Command, is based at Lackland Annex. The mission protects the integrity of military computer systems worldwide against cyberattacks. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

San Antonio has more than 56,000 people employed in the science and technology workforce, a rising number of nationally recognized cyber-related events for professionals, and a growing number of certified information systems security professionals (CISSPs).

Hernandez said SAEDF created the IT/IS roundtable, which includes membership of related local companies. Its purpose is to tap local industry experts as a resource to identify job growth opportunities for San Antonio.

“As part of the Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) Program, we visit IT/IS companies in San Antonio to identify issues and challenges that the program can address and assist,” he explained. “We also identify gaps in IT/IS occupations.”

Hernandez said the presence of the 24th Air Force and 25th Air Force in San Antonio helps to provide expansion opportunities for established local companies, and serves as  a tool for attracting other enterprises to the city. Hernandez said the military’s cybersecurity missions located here also help keep homegrown talent here, and encourage more students and professionals to diversify their skills.

“San Antonio’s Economic Development Strategic Plan includes strategies to work with local higher learning educational institutions to help fill identified gaps in San Antonio’s IT/IS workforce,” Hernandez added.

Local universities are continuing to grow their own on-campus cybersecurity programs. UTSA’s Institute for Cyber Security (ICS), nationally recognized as one of the nation’s top cybersecurity programs, conducts basic and applied research in partnership with academia, government, and industry. In addition to UTSA’s programs, Our Lady of the Lake University and St. Mary’s University School of Law are members of the local Cyber Innovation Technology and Research Consortium. Also, Alamo Colleges campuses have degree and certification programs concentrating on marketable cybersecurity skills.

A website for Cyber First Responders was unveiled last week in a two-day conference at St. Philip’s College involving local computer science students and educators, and private and public sector experts in cybersecurity.

Cyber First Responders is an umbrella organization of sorts where local cybersecurity professionals volunteer and respond to an emergency call regarding a mishap, such as a data breach or an attack by hackers. The program will not be completely operational until January, but more than 100 professionals from firms such as Rackspace and USAA, as well as college graduates in the career field, have already signed up to be a “responder.”

Meanwhile, the EDF, the City, and Bexar Country all have agreed to contribute $50,000 to fund a new position, cybersecurity chief, which would guide growth of the local industry. Local officials are working on finalizing details of the job. One report states that Will Garrett, the chamber’s vice president of economic development, is a leading candidate for a position that will be key to growing the cybersecurity presence in the city.

*Featured/top image: (File photo) From the conference “Constructing Cybersecurity: Protecting Our Digital Infrastructure” on Sept 3, 2009 at the Institute for Public Policy, Rice University. Photo by Ed Schipul

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.