Published 12:00 am, Sunday, March 11, 2018
Photo: File Photo / San Antonio Express-News
San Antonio is recognized as a hub for cybersecurity.
Much of the effort centers around the Air Force, which in 1985 decided to move its computer security mission from Alabama to San Antonio to align all three electronic security disciplines — computer security, communications security and emanations security — under one organization. This move also aligned with the National Security Agency, which had all three missions and with which the Electronic Security Command, or ESC, was heavily involved.
This occurred at a time in the computer industry when PCs had been introduced and there was a growth in their use both in industry and privately. At the same time, the development of the internet was taking place as people naturally wanted to connect these machines to each other.
Because the Air Force staffed its new office mostly with individuals who had no previous security background, there was no preconceived notion of what security should look like while most of the security field still focused on mainframe security.
This new group of security professionals in the Air Force changed the service’s regulations governing security, and supported and funded development of new technologies and processes — such as intrusion detection and computer incident response — and basically took the lead in cybersecurity.
With the growing interest in security, numerous Department of Defense contractors opened offices in San Antonio. This led to a large growth in the cybersecurity industry in the community and put it on the path for a national leadership role. Later, efforts in academia and the creation of organizations such as NSA Texas added to the community’s cybersecurity expertise.
San Antonio remains well positioned to be a leader in cybersecurity, but a number of other communities around the country are challenging it. We still have a tremendous advantage with both the 24th and 25th Air Forces and NSA Texas calling San Antonio home, along with the private sector here to support them.
Several colleges and universities within the city are recognized as Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by NSA and the Department of Homeland Security — most notably, the University of Texas at San Antonio, home to three cybersecurity centers and institutes and the top-ranked cybersecurity education program in the nation.
San Antonio is also a leader in security education in middle and high schools, and has been recognized as a CyberPatriot Center of Excellence by the Air Force Association.
To stay prominent and to increase our influence, we must not only continue in all these areas, we must keep pushing the envelope and finding ways to serve as industry leaders. To do this, the city must serve as an example for other communities and foster collaboration among the academic, operational and research worlds.
San Antonio was home to the first community cybersecurity exercise, Dark Screen, in 2002. It was one of the first to develop a cybersecurity annex for its disaster recovery plans. It should continue leading the nation by building on these accomplishments, by participating and leading more community and state exercises, and developing the first community Information Sharing and Analysis Organization.
The academic institutions within the city have a wide range of experience in cybersecurity, and there are some loose affiliations among the institutions, research organizations and industry as well. Should these informal efforts become more formal, and the various entities come together in a coordinated way to jointly work on security projects, the resulting research and development program could have a significant impact not just locally but nationally.
In many respects, the reason that San Antonio rose to prominence in cybersecurity was because of a single decision back in the 1980s, almost by accident. For it to maintain its prominence and grow even further, it will take a concerted effort by the security community within San Antonio to develop a collaborative model for the nation to follow.
Gregory B. White is a professor of computer science and the director of the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio.