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San Diego Launches Cybersecurity Squad

The Cyber Center of Excellence was created in San Diego to stay one step ahead of hackers.

(TNS) -- A high-stakes battle of wits plays out every day in cyberspace.

It makes headlines when hackers break through the defenses of household names such as Target, Anthem, J.P. Morgan and the Internal Revenue Service.

Otherwise, it plays out behind the scenes, with cybersecurity professionals scrambling to stay one step ahead of hackers.

San Diego aims to play a lead role in this fight. The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. has targeted cybersecurity as an industry where the region’s defense and communications technology expertise can be tapped to create jobs.

As part of that effort, the nonprofit Cyber Center of Excellence was created last year to promote the region as a hub for cybersecurity. Retired Rear Adm. Kenneth Slaght has been named president and co-chairman of the organization.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and Slaght recently spoke with the Union-Tribune about the region’s cyber security efforts. Here are some excerpts.

Q: What is the Cyber Center of Excellence?

A: The basic mission is to foster, enable and accelerate the cyber economy and to create an innovation hub for cyber here in the region.

If you think about it, it is very similar to what has already been a successful model here in San Diego with biotech, telecommunications and even tourism. We as a region are able to bring together the right assets across an economic sector, and as a result of that collaboration, we are able to accelerate it and grow it faster.

Q: Why cybersecurity as a focus?

A: A couple of years ago, the Economic Development Corp. was looking at what would be the next big thing to accelerate in terms of the economy in the region, having been successful with clean tech and biotech.

Cyber really jumped out at them. The fact that you have a big government entity in town in the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), which is really doing all the information technology and cyber for the United States Navy and Marine Corps.

Then you have big companies like Qualcomm, ViaSat and ESET all headquartered in the region. The third part is a very robust education system here, particularly at the higher levels of education, where we can grow the kind of people you need to fill these jobs.

Q: Aren’t there other Cyber Centers of Excellence in the U.S., including one in Maryland?

A: Maryland is the granddaddy in this world. That area around the National Security Agency is just a natural incubator of cyber innovation because of the work the government is doing up there.

We are in the game. We are blessed also to have our brothers to the north in Silicon Valley who in terms of dollar value are probably the biggest stakeholders in the world in cyber. Then there are other parts of the country —I think Texas has a couple of places coming on line, which is all good. We all tend to work together.

I think at the end of the day, what might be the vision for the future is to really start to divide up all the complexity and problems that we face in cyber, and let the various regions where the smart talent exists tackle these problems incrementally.

Then you bring it all back together and you solve the larger problem of cyber. I think that is probably what we are going to evolve to over time.

Q: In San Diego, where is our niche or expertise?

A: Thanks to organizations like SPAWAR and companies like ViaSat and Qualcomm, we have our feet in several key areas. Certainly the folks at Qualcomm are making some of the hardware that needs to go hand in hand with what is an overall cyber program.

The folks at SPAWAR are clearly involved in this problem (which) gets solved at the Department of Defense level.

I think an interesting aspect is the lines between commercial cyber and Department of Defense cyber are quickly becoming blurred.

So where you can bring together what is happening on the DOD side and the commercial side and leverage both entities to improve your posture in cyber is a huge advantage. Those elements are what make us somewhat unique and give us an advantage in this going forward.

Q: Are there companies in San Diego doing interesting things in cyber?

A: One of the areas I think that is going to be very formidable in getting ahead of the game in cyber — by which I mean getting out of our defensive posture where we are always reacting to attacks and moving to the point where we can actually predict an attack and prevent it from happening — that sort of technology is being very much led here in the San Diego region.

There are a number of important companies doing this work, some of them startup companies. There is CyberFlow Analytics, which does what is basically large data anomaly detection across networks to be able to identify things that aren’t quite right and start to focus the operators of a network on the problem before it really causes damage. We have a number of companies that are doing that.

At the end to the day, we already have some pretty impressive numbers here in San Diego. We have 13 percent growth here in the region for cyber, over 100 companies, 6,500 jobs. Cyber growth compared with overall growth of just 2.2 percent shows you how dynamic this cyber sector is.

©2015 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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