There is a world of threats out there trying to hack into the computers of companies, government agencies and private individuals. San Diego’s cybersecurity sector will have no shortage of work protecting systems and data from these online intruders.
“For better or worse, business is great. People get hacked and we’re there to help them,” said Eric Basu, CEO of Sentek Global, a San Diego-based cybersecurity and engineering company.
The company, which was founded in 2001, employs just under 200 people, and 60 percent of its business is related to cybersecurity, said Basu, including penetration testing, vulnerability assessment, compliance with cybersecurity standards and forensic work, which entails analysis after a hack to determine how the bad guys got in, what they took, and whether they implanted any “back doors” for future entry.
Cyber Self Defense Training
Last year Basu launched Haiku, a “cyber range,” which is a cloud-based virtual playing field where users can hone their skills at finding cyber vulnerabilities and defending against attacks. Basu likened the site to the shooting range where gun-users can practice their marksmanship.
Sentek is one of more than 150 companies in San Diego with a focus on cybersecurity, according to a study released in March by the Cyber Center of Excellence (CCOE), a nonprofit agency with members in both the private and public sectors that promotes the growth and success of the local cybersecurity industry.
The report, an update of a 2016 study, shows that 8,450 people work in cybersecurity jobs, and an additional 11,210 jobs are indirectly related to cyber, created by inter-industry and business-to-business activities, for a total of nearly 20,000 jobs. Since 2016, direct cybersecurity employment has increased 11 percent, compared with 3 percent for the entire regional job market.
That adds up to a total annual economic impact of $2.2 billion for the San Diego region, according to the study, which was prepared by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Council on behalf of the CCOE.
A Diverse Workspace
“(Cybersecurity) is right up there with biotech and travel. It’s an important sector for San Diego and one we want to make sure continues to grow,” said Kenneth Slaght, chairman and president of CCOE.
Key cybersecurity occupations include software developers, at a median salary of $109,500, computer network architects at $119,400 and computer user support specialists at $57,100, according to the report.
San Diego’s cybersecurity workspace is diverse, with a range of companies providing a variety of products and services, including development of artificial intelligence or AI systems, “ethical hackers” who try to find security breaches so they can be fixed, and insurers who backstop losses due to cyberattacks, said Slaght.
From tech giant Qualcomm to small startups, all manner of companies must protect their data from hackers.
Teradata, a global company with its headquarters in San Diego, has about 1,000 employees locally, part of a global workforce of more than 10,000, said Brad Rambur, director of platform security and a member of the CCOE board.
The company provides data and analytic services to its clients, which include 75 of the Fortune 100 companies, Rambur said. A critical task for the company is making sure clients’ data is secure.
The motivations of hackers can vary, from simply trying to embarrass a company by stealing its data, to encrypting the stolen data and ransoming the encryption key, said Rambur. Still others are looking to steal intellectual property as a way to gain a strategic business advantage.
Cybersecurity professionals must understand how systems work to be able to detect vulnerabilities, and design systems that are difficult to breach, said Rambur. Therefore, a number of scientific and engineering disciplines can be useful in performing cybersecurity work.
Another cyber company with strong San Diego ties is Colorado-based Webroot, recently acquired by Carbonite. The company has an office with about 90 employees in the UTC area, which focuses on such areas as threat intelligence and machine learning/AI.
Tapping Supercomputer Center
Webroot grew its business by providing end-user malware and anti-virus protection to consumers, but in recent years has focused on small- to medium-sized business customers, said Hal Lonas, the company’s chief technology officer, who is based in San Diego. Webroot also provides network security products, and produces an annual threat report. Recently, the company reached an agreement with the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego to use the center’s data crunching capacity for its cybersecurity efforts.
In 2018, the cybersecurity industry saw a 36 percent increase in phishing attacks, in which hackers send fake emails to businesses and individuals, trying to get them to click on a malicious link, or divulge their passwords, said Lonas. Another variation, he said, is the “spear-phishing” attack, in which the emails are targeted to specific people at a business.
“The bad guys think like businessmen,” said Lonas, weighing the cost of carrying out a phishing attack against the potential benefits.
The anchor of San Diego’s cybersecurity industry, according to the CCOE report, is the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, or SPAWAR, which “develops, delivers and sustains advanced information warfare capabilities,” wrote Patrick Sullivan, its executive director, in an email.
SPAWAR has more than 10,000 military and civilian employees worldwide, with about half of them working in San Diego at its facilities in Point Loma and Old Town, said Sullivan. SPAWAR alone accounts for 3,530 of the 8,450 cybersecurity jobs in San Diego.
“We share many of the same threat concerns as private industry, but we must also consider the global nation-state competition that has extended to the cyber domain,” Sullivan wrote.
One challenge for the cybersecurity industry going forward, wrote Sullivan, will be finding the skilled workers needed to fill jobs in the sector. “We have been able to hire at a level to keep up with a demand by sourcing through academia, retiring military and private sector.” As it has a more experienced workforce, Sullivan wrote, SPAWAR’s average salary is $115,630, plus benefits.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the services Teradata provides its clients.