U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Solito, cyber transport technician, uses a punch down and tone generator to locate power for ethernet cables. Photo by Senior Airman Jasmonet Jackson, courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

Which city has the country’s top-rated cybersecurity higher education program and a high concentration of government cybersecurity agencies and jobs? The answer, of course, is San Antonio, a city that is now second only to Washington D.C. for veterans and other individuals interested in a cybersecurity career. The sector is still young with great growth potential.

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is anticipating the need for skilled cybersecurity professionals here and in other U.S. cities with its cybersecurity program, ranked #1 in the U.S., according to the Ponemon Institute’s 2014 independent analysis. UTSA’s College of Business Cyber Security program offers more than 14 undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of digital forensics, secure network design, intrusion detection and incident response. UTSA’s Institute for Cyber Security (ICS) conducts basic and applied cybersecurity research in partnership with academia, government and industry.

Justin Gray works during the 2015 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. Photo by Scott Ball.
UTSA student Justin Gray (center) works with his team during the 2015 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in April 2015. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Partnerships are vital to the emerging cybersecurity field. Government agencies, cybersecurity firms and information technology businesses have migrated to San Antonio since Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland became home to the recently created Air Force Cyber Command (24th Air Force). The Lackland-based Air Force component specializes in network warfare and information operations, supporting the U.S. Cyber Command headquartered in Fort Meade, MD. Since its establishment in 2011, the Air Force Cyber Command has grown to 5,400 airmen, civilians and contractors, with another 11,000 Air Force reservists and Air National Guard members supporting round-the-clock cyber operations. Given the rapid budget increases for U.S. Cyber Command overall – $120 million at its start in 2010 to $509 million for 2015 —government cybersecurity operations are here to stay.

In addition to the Air Force Cyber Command, there are other U.S. Department of Defense units in San Antonio working in or supporting cybersecurity — and looking for qualified professionals. Local units include the National Security Agency’s Texas Cryptologic CenterAir Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance AgencyJoint Information Operations Warfare CenterAir Force Electronic Warfare School; and the Air Force Cryptologic Systems Group.

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.

With the rise in cyber crime as well as cyber espionage, the demand for qualified information security professionals goes beyond the defense sector. Yet, the San Antonio labor market cannot keep up with demand. Not unique to San Antonio per se, the overall cybersecurity labor shortages translate into over 290,000 cybersecurity jobs currently unfilled. A 2014 Burning Glass Technologies report states the demand for information security professionals will grow by 53 percent through 2018. Growing demand is leading to better salaries for cybersecurity professionals compared to other IT jobs, on average about $12,000 over the average for all computer jobs. Burning Glass found the advertised salary for cybersecurity jobs in 2012 was $100,733 versus $89,205 for all computer jobs.

Earlier this month, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce in partnership with The University of Texas System and UTSA hosted the first San Antonio Converge Summit for defense industry leaders.

“This cyber showcase was a special forum to discuss opportunities for the private sector and academia in support of innovations for federal agencies such as the National Security Agency and military commands in Texas with global operations,” stated Michelle Atchison, Ph.D., UT System’s associate vice chancellor for federal relations on the UTSA website.

Four other universities in San Antonio offer degree programs in cybersecurity. St. Mary’s University recently started a new master’s degree program. Texas A&M University-San Antonio and Our Lady of the Lake University also offers bachelor’s degree programs. Cybersecurity graduates can expect a robust job market should they stay. San Antonio has the second highest concentration of data centers supporting information security in the U.S. as well as 80-plus companies specializing in defense technology, all contributing factors to its status as a “Cyber City.”

Hallmark University is a nonprofit college in San Antonio offering degrees in aviation maintenance, information technology, cybersecurity, business, nursing and medical assisting, Courtesy photo.
Hallmark University is a nonprofit college in San Antonio offering degrees in aviation maintenance, information technology, cybersecurity, business, nursing and medical assisting, Courtesy photo.

In addition to education, cybersecurity professionals will need certifications to qualify for jobs. New ones emerge regularly, but the most common certifications requested in job postings include Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) and Certified Security Information Manager (Security+). While job listings require one or more certifications, not many applicants have them. For example, only 89,932 people hold the Certified Information Systems Security Professional or CISSP certification worldwide as of October 2013. Salaries for CISSP certified professionals range from $54,820 to $152,311 per year, depending on geographic region and experience.

San Antonio’s challenge is to increase its private cybersecurity sector as well as its local talent. Compared to San Diego and Silicon Valley, and even other parts of Texas like Houston and Dallas, San Antonio’s venture capital community is small. In the Cybersecurity Hot 500 Companies to watch in 2015, only six companies in San Antonio made the list: Globalscape, Demin Group, Fulcrum Biometrics, Secure Logix, Digital Defense, and Infocyte. In contrast, there are 12 companies in Austin on that same list. Many San Antonio companies experience difficulties in securing venture capital. “When we launched SecureLogix only about one-third [sic] of the money came from San Antonio,” CEO of Secure Logix Lee Sutterfield said told the San Antonio Business Journal earlier this year. “The rest came from outside. Even then, we were not raising as much as we had planned.”

Many defense companies win cybersecurity contracts and regularly post positions in San Antonio. Well-known government contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Mitre, SAIC and TASC supply much of the contractor labor at the Air Force Cyber Command and other defense agencies. Defense government contracting increasingly requires a portion of contract work to be awarded to small businesses. Many small businesses partner with larger defense companies to win cybersecurity government contracts. Smaller companies such as LMI, Red Knight, Webhead and Qualis also look to fill cybersecurity positions in San Antonio.

Local companies post job openings for information security professionals as well, such as credit unions and other financial institutions, health care facilities and retail companies. San Antonio based research organization Southwest Research Institute supports government agencies with specialized information technology projects, ones that need information professionals. Large businesses working with data like Rackspace and AT&T also are looking for cybersecurity professionals here.

Just one of the many sections of desks at Rackspace. Photo by Scott Ball.
Inside Rackspace headquarters, also known as “The Castle.” Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The last requirement for a government position in cybersecurity is usually nonnegotiable—security clearances. If you’re interested in a cybersecurity job in a government agency, working for a government contractor, or in an organization that works with government contractors, you either must have an active (or easily reactivated) clearance, or be able to apply for one. A security clearance provides access to specific classified programs based on its clearance level. For most government cybersecurity programs, the job applicant will need a Top Secret clearance.

If you have just finished an information security degree program and gotten the needed certifications, applying for your first security clearance will take a while, anywhere from four to eight months, depending on the job, your background information and the level of clearance required. In the past three years, DOD has had a significant backlog of security clearances and reinvestigations pending, especially for Top Secret level access. The way to start the process if you don’t already have one is get a job offer for a position that requires a clearance. If you know you will be applying for cybersecurity jobs, start keeping detailed records of every place where you’ve lived, places and dates when you’ve traveled outside the U.S. and the names and contact information for neighbors, friends and colleagues who know you for every address and job for filling out the clearance paperwork.

If government cybersecurity jobs and clearances don’t appeal, businesses still need information security and normally don’t require clearances. Holding one or more certifications in information security is the leading factor to successful careers, followed by formal education. Many non-government organizations are building security operations centers outside of larger city centers in places like Colorado Springs and San Antonio where there isn’t as much competition for these jobs. Some employers are also experimenting with virtual security operations centers, providing job applicants the ability to work from anywhere, in order to attract the talent needed.

With new categories of cybersecurity jobs emerging as the cyber threat evolves, it’s a promising time to live in “Cyber City” San Antonio for individuals seeking a career in information security.

*Top image: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Solito, cyber transport technician, uses a punch down and tone generator to locate power for ethernet cables. Photo by Senior Airman Jasmonet Jackson, courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science, and veteran affairs. She won the Texas Veterans Commission Media Excellence Awards for her 2016 Veterans Day story "Life as a Veteran: What Veterans...