"If something bad were to come, it would stay isolated within that bubble, that fake machine," she said. "And once the employee is done browsing ... we take that fake machine and we wipe it, we destroy it."

Gonzalez and her co-founder launched their company in 2010 and quit their day jobs last year to focus full-time on the venture. Early sales have been promising, she said, and she's enthusiastic about the possibilities in the commercial market.

But she thinks Maryland has a tough road ahead if it is truly going to be the cybersecurity Silicon Valley. It's not for lack of talented people and good ideas, she said — it's about venture capital.

"That very, very early-stage company that's still trying to prove out their technology, you don't see as many investments in our area for those types of companies," she said. "And without that, we can't compete with Silicon Valley. We really can't. We could have really great ideas, really great technologies, really great innovation, but if we can't ... take it to market, we can't compete."

That's not a new lament in Maryland. State and local officials have tried to fill some of that gap — there's the state's InvestMaryland Challenge for fledgling firms and Anne Arundel County's VOLT loan fund, for instance — but Gonzalez would like to see more private investors get into the early stage market.

That could determine Maryland's level of dominance in the field over the long term. The state isn't the only cyber hub.

Bhavani Thuraisingham, executive director of the Cyber Security Research and Education Center at the University of Texas at Dallas, said her university's graduating cyberspecialists head to several Texas cities, Seattle and Boston, in addition to Silicon Valley and the Baltimore-Washington area.

Silicon Valley is a popular destination for the graduates who are not U.S. citizens, she said. Maryland and the District of Columbia are big draws for the Americans, with federal jobs and government contracting positions that require citizenship.

Thuraisingham knows about Maryland's cyber assets. In her eyes, it's reasonable for the state to think it could become the industry's Silicon Valley — even with Silicon Valley itself in the running. It just depends on how the state builds on what it has.

"All the ingredients are there," she said.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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