The University of Texas at San Antonio is making several moves to cement itself as a beacon for cybersecurity research and collaboration, including a proposed $40 million national security hub that could be built downtown.

Greg White, who directs UTSA’s Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security, told the Rivard Report Monday the university is leading the charge in developing a universal set of standards for individuals and organizations – especially non-enterprise entities that aren’t used to dealing with cyberattacks.

White said collaborative networks known as Information Sharing Analysis Organizations exist in several sectors, which allows large enterprises such as financial institutions to share information on cybersecurity threats, work together to resolve them, and adhere to a set of standards to prevent them. But that can leave smaller businesses to fall through the cracks, he said.

That’s where White and UTSA’s cybersecurity experts could come in, he said. They will help communitiesfrom local governments to groups of similar small businesses, such as mariachi groups – establish their own collaborative networks.

He said the effort is also aimed at raising awareness throughout industries and across demographics about the threat cyberattacks pose – just as McGruff the Crime Dog and Smokey Bear did for crime and wildfires, respectively.

“We’re trying to ramp [cybersecurity awarness] up across the nation. Period,” White said Tuesday after speaking at cybersecurity talk at UTSA. “To prevent cyber fires, we’ve got to get the nation involved. We can’t rely just on security professionals. Everybody needs to know what they can do individually to help prevent that cyber wildfire.”

These efforts won’t wait for a 100,000-square-foot, $40 million National Security Collaboration Center to be constructed, he said. Efforts will begin this year to establish information-sharing networks throughout communities in Texas.

The collaboration center, which will be dedicated to solving the country’s biggest cybersecurity issues, could be located in downtown San Antonio, said Jaclyn Shaw, director of research support at UTSA.

Neither the location nor the funding for constructing the center has been finalized. UTSA President Taylor Eighmy will go before the UT System Board of Regents in July to secure that funding – between $30 million and $40 million for an 80,000-100,000 square foot center, Shaw said.

If it comes downtown, the center could leverage San Antonio’s downtown tech district, she said, which hosts a growing ecosystem of resources and companies including co-working space Geekdom, software-as-a-service venture equity firm Scaleworks, computer programming academy CodeUp, and others.

The collaboration center would aim to fuel further growth along the East Houston Street corridor, Shaw said, and serve as a one-stop shop for cybersecurity research and development at UTSA.

“Everything we built and are doing today we are going to transition into this facility,” she said.

The intent behind the center is to advance partnerships between government, industry, and higher learning institutions to improve national security, according to the university’s brochure on the program. UTSA would partner with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, National Security Agency (NSA) Texas, 24th Air Force Cyber Command, 25th Air Force, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation there.

Proposed partners in the private sector include Accenture, Cisco, USAA, Raytheon, Microsoft, and Rackspace among others.

The center would also serve as an incubator and companies would have the option of co-locating at the site.

Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA’s interim vice president for research who chairs the committee leading planning efforts for the facility, told the Rivard Report in April the city’s economic development department has worked to attract the attention of companies on both coasts to relocate to San Antonio and possibly to the proposed collaboration center.

The facility will solidify San Antonio as a cybersecurity hub, Arulanandam said.

“We want UTSA to be a leader in this field and very timely align with the needs of the federal government and private sector so that we come up with creative solutions for the next generation of cyberthreats that may be coming down the pike,” he said. “I think we can definitely help the national security posture of our country by reaping the talent but also doing applied research with our federal and private partners.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.