A cybersecurity future in Baltimore

Could Baltimore be the next cybersecurity hub?

Soon enough your blender will be able to communicate when its blades are becoming dull and at the same time instruct you where to go to purchase new ones — at the lowest price, we hope. This is part of a larger trend called "the Internet of things" where all things will be connected to the Internet. Smart watch today, smart coffee maker tomorrow.

Online data keep growing, yet the question remains: How safe is our information? With recent hacks like those at Sony and Ashley Madison, our vulnerability has never been clearer. There is a huge need for cybersecurity innovation. But where will it come from? As Silicon Valley turns out social networks and mobile apps, the nation's answer, surprisingly, lies right here in Baltimore.

Why, you ask? There are 3 primary reasons:

1. Location, location, location. Baltimore is within shouting distance to some of the world's top resources for IT, security and education. This proximity allows private cybersecurity companies easier access for collaboration and partnership opportunities with those leading the national defense and intelligence initiatives. The federal hub and major contracting sectors (e.g., Ft. Meade, NSA, Northrop Grumman) play a crucial part in attracting early stage technology to our area, and more notably, cybersecurity companies. Additionally, the new federally funded cybersecurity research and development center, which will foster public private collaborations, is located in Maryland.

2. An ecosystem for startups to thrive. Did you know that Maryland ranks third in overall concentration of high tech businesses? Within the state, there are 16 NSA Certified National Centers of Academic Excellence for cybersecurity. For example, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) ranks fourth among U.S. research universities in information technology degrees and certificates awarded. With cybersecurity becoming more interdisciplinary, Maryland has morphed itself into a leading ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship in this space.

There are about 30 business incubators located in Maryland, with approximately 18 of those specifically focused on cyber and IT. This summer, members of the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents announced their desire to create of a new venture capital fund to support Maryland-based startups, with the secondary goal of attracting companies from outside the region. The proposed Maryland Innovation Venture Capital Fund — which is still in the early planning stages — would be large enough to invest about $10 million per year over five years in areas including biotechnology, medical devices, health care services, cybersecurity and virtual reality.

3. We're already doing it. In recent years, Baltimore has given birth to many revolutionary cybersecurity companies like RedOwl Analytics, ZeroFOX and Tenable Network Security — all of which have made a national name for themselves. (And better yet, they're hiring!) Additionally, we are attracting attention from top-notch early stage cybersecurity companies around the globe. In April at the RSA Conference held in San Francisco, Maryland's cybersecurity thought leaders stood front and center. The annual event brought more than 20,000 attendees, featuring speakers and exhibits by many of the world's leaders in cybersecurity. Among the Maryland-based cyber experts who shared their expertise were Nate Lesser, deputy director of the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence; Aviel Rubin, computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University; Joshua Corman, chief technical officer at Sonatype; and Ira Winkler, president of Secure Mentem. Maryland left a significant mark on the conference and created many connections to enhance capital and global opportunities.

Ultimately, cybersecurity is not just about national security, it's also about our own economic security. I heard Emma Lovett, an expert in the law of armed conflict as it applies in cyberspace, speak at CyberPoint's recent speaker series. Ms. Lovett said something that truly struck me: The vulnerabilities that lie within cyberspace are not a new phenomenon. We've been vulnerable since day one, and what has changed has been the realization of how vulnerable we truly are. Thankfully, Baltimore is leading this catch-up battle.

Ellen Hemmerly (hemmerly@umbc.edu) is executive director of bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park; she oversees several cybersecurity initiatives that are making a direct impact on Maryland innovation and entrepreneurship, including the Northrop Grumman CYNC Program.

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