San Antonio: Moving from a Cybersecurity City to ‘Cyber City, USA’

By Iris Gonzalez
Trained cybersecurity professionals are in great demand in every industry and government sector. Photo credit: Northup Grumman.

“Cybersecurity as an industry is still in its infancy, and San Antonio is among the elite locations poised for growth,” a Deloitte report found. What are the next steps for San Antonio as the city leverages its strengths in cybersecurity?

Natalie Wilson is a senior associate specializing in cybersecurity and data privacy with Langley & Banack, Inc. Courtesy photo.
Natalie Wilson is a senior associate specializing in cybersecurity and data privacy with Langley & Banack, Inc. Courtesy photo.

Natalie Wilson is a senior associate in the Cybersecurity, Data Protection, and Privacy Practice Group in the San Antonio office of Langley & Banack, Inc. Her colleague, Lui Chambers, recently moderated a multidisciplinary panel discussing San Antonio’s cybersecurity future. Hosted by the Association for Corporate Growth, the Oct. 30 discussion included panelists Jim Perschbach, Port San Antonio CEO and president, Bret Piatt, Jungle Disk CEO, Dr. Greg White, director of the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at UTSA, and Michael Pleasant, CEO of Open Security.

Wilson shares perspectives on how San Antonio can continue its evolution as a “Cyber City, USA.”

It’s no secret that San Antonio boasts incredible breadth and depth when it comes to cybersecurity. The presence of the 24th Air Force has generated a robust market for cyber-related government contracting and employs approximately 2,300 civilian personnel and contractors. Cyber warriors leaving active duty service, along with graduates from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) cybersecurity degree programs, provide employers access to an unparalleled, cutting-edge cybersecurity labor force.

While the Department of Defense represents a large segment of our economy, other cornerstone industries like medicine and banking have been at the forefront of driving cybersecurity innovation and adoption.  Long before most people were thinking about information and data security, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) required hospitals and doctors to protect patient records.  Medical providers sought cybersecurity tools and training to comply with federal and state mandated, industry-specific privacy requirements in order to benefit from using digital medical records and communications with specialists.

Finance and banking are no different.  USAA pioneered mobile banking with its secure check deposit feature for cellphone use, a feature that wouldn’t be possible if the applications and data transmissions were not secure.

When it comes to innovation, San Antonio has always been incredibly supportive of entrepreneurs in their early stages.  The city also is home to a number of excellent incubators, some aimed specifically at cyber technology to facilitate the realization of high-tech ideas.

All of these conditions combine to create a fertile environment for cybersecurity expertise and innovation.  But what does it take for San Antonio to expand beyond its cybersecurity pre-eminence and become Cyber City, USA?

First, what is the difference between a “Cyber Security City” and a “Cyber City”?  “Cybersecurity” has different meanings depending on who you talk to, but generally speaking, it is the protection of devices, networks, and the information both transmitted and stored from unauthorized access or attack.  “Cyber” has a much broader meaning – it is essentially everything related to networked devices and encompasses everything from social media platforms to artificial intelligence to smart thermostats, or broadly speaking, the internet of Things.  Growing from “Cybersecurity City” to “Cyber City” will require San Antonio to foster a climate where cyber talent can be employed more broadly in the private sector.

At a recent multidisciplinary panel hosted by the Association for Corporate Growth that tackled this very question, two fundamental points emerged.

The greatest challenges for San Antonio to make the transition from a Cybersecurity City to Cyber City are matchmaking and scalability. Click To Tweet

For cyber matchmaking to work innovators and existing industry alike need to collaborate more, and more closely.  Local innovators are consistently creating amazing tools.  Industries like aviation and manufacturing to which the city plays host, on the other hand, are searching for 21st-century solutions to various challenges. The problem is that the two groups simply aren’t talking to each other.

The solution to this issue is delightfully low tech.

The innovators and industry simply need to talk to each other – early and often.  Physical proximity will allow our innovators to develop an intimate understanding of the current demands of the industries that are important to San Antonio’s economic stability and future growth so that they can develop tools and solutions that effectively address the needs of their potential customers.  Technical innovations will help those mainstay industries remain competitive in national and international markets.

The screenshot from Ractive's virtual reality scenario shows a simulated cybersecurity network control. Courtesy image.
Geekdom startup Ractive collaborated with DC Industries and Red Cell San Antonio to develop virtual reality scenarios of a simulated cybersecurity network control for cybersecurity training. See Startup Companies DC Industries and Ractive Develop Cybersecurity VR Training for more details. Courtesy image.

Scalability is a tougher nut to crack.  San Antonio does a great job getting entrepreneurs off the starting blocks.  But when those companies are ready to grow so they can meet the challenges and expectations of bigger clients, the supporting infrastructure is not quite as robust.  The broader professional and business community needs to develop its expertise in this area so that our home-grown businesses can continue to grow where it most matters—here in San Antonio.

The ancillary services necessary to assist the tech businesses as they grow and expand include lawyers, bankers, CPAs, business valuation experts, and insurance professionals, all of whom must possess a more than a fundamental grasp of the technical capabilities of their clients and the applications of that technology in developed and emerging industries.

This infrastructure is critical when tech-based businesses need or want to obtain funding, merge with or acquire other companies, or compete for significant contracts. If that support structure is not available in San Antonio, our fledgling tech businesses will migrate up I-35 or further away to where those services are more readily available.

Conceptually, these solutions are straightforward, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be simple to implement. The raw resources and talent are already on the ground in San Antonio and the demand for supporting services such as business valuation experts is growing steadily. As our city’s infrastructure grows to meet demand and with some deliberate effort to collaborate more across industries and disciplines, there’s no reason why San Antonio can’t launch itself from Cybersecurity City, USA to Cyber City, USA.

Featured image is of cybersecurity professionals working in a typical cyber monitoring center. Photo credit: Northup Grumman.

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