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The race to build the Silicon Valley of cybersecurity (+video)

Cities and regions around the US are competing to draw business and brainpower in a market projected to top $160 billion by 2020.

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This is an excerpt of an article published in full on Passcode's long-form storytelling platform. Click to read the full story

Dozens of businessmen filed off luxury tour buses, huddling around the Army colonel who commands the sprawling Fort George G. Meade, Md., base that’s home to the National Security Agency and the US military's cyberwarfare command. He told them protecting the country from adversaries over computer networks is now just as crucial as on land, in air, sea, and space. It was hard to hear him over the sound of bulldozers and cranes clanking and screeching, building what will become a 750,000 square foot data center.

Yet this cacophonous scene was exactly what Jim Dinegar, chief executive officer of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, wanted the the 82 presidents of banks, construction magnates, realtors, and mortgage brokers he invited on his summer “Cyber Bus Tour” to see: That the US government is taking the threat so seriously that the base is razing the rest of its cherished 36-hole golf course to make way for more computing power for its missions.

Mr. Dinegar hopes the military's double-down on cybersecurity will convince the businessmen it’s worth supplying the influx of thousands of specialists to the relatively sparse Maryland area with everything from homes to dry cleaning and office moving services. After all, Dinegar’s top mission is to bring jobs and business to the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and suburban Maryland. He wants boomtowns. Cybersecurity, he says, will be the region’s golden ticket. “It’s an opportunity that’s bigger than anything I’ve ever seen.”

But Dinegar is facing stiff competition. He’s not the only one equating the country’s cyber insecurity with dollar signs.

While California’s Silicon Valley is the US technology capital, cities and states across the country are vying to dominate the booming market for actually securing that technology and information.

“What’s the next Silicon Valley for cybersecurity?” asks Peter Singer, a strategist who focuses on cybersecurity at the New America think tank in Washington. “This is one of the fastest growing industries – not just in the tech sector, but in the world.”

The global cybersecurity market was $67 billion in 2011 and is projected to grow as high as $156 billion by 2019, according to premium market research firm Markets and Markets. It will expand as more giants such as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Target, and Home Depot are hacked, consumers demand more and better security, and businesses grow more aware of the potential cost to their sales and reputation if they do not provide it.

Seeing a window of opportunity, state governments and pro-business groups from California to Texas and Florida are positioning themselves to win federal contracts and score venture capital investment. Some are going to extraordinary lengths to build what they call “a cybersecurity ecosystem.” They are commissioning economic impact studies, developing tax incentives to attract companies to their regions and even hiring PR firms to devise branding strategies. They are competing over government contracts, even investing in startups with money from state coffers. With as many as 300,000 cybersecurity jobs across the country unfilled last year, according to security company Symantec, they are crafting academic programs for public universities to win research grants and generate the next crop of highly skilled workers poised to make six figures– and stay local. 

While cybersecurity “is about digital systems and processes,” Mr. Singer adds, “there are still people behind it. The people, and companies they work for, have to physically be somewhere ... . Where will these people and firms be located? It’s not yet shook out where it will be.”

This is an excerpt of a piece published on Passcode's long-form platform. Read the full story with the breakdown of which cities and regions are vying to be the country's Cyber Capital: passcode.csmonitor.com/goldrush

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