International cyber conference marks a milestone in Port San Antonio’s work for recognition in the industry

International cyber conference marks a milestone in Port San Antonio’s work for recognition in the industry

SAN ANTONIO – In late October, DeLorean Motor Co. CEO Joost de Vries told an audience at Port San Antonio’s massive Tech Port Center + Arena that drivers using Internet-enabled apps for tasks such as reading weather reports, checking fuel tanks, navigating city traffic, listening to the radio and operating garage doors are at risk.

“All these connection points are problematic,” said de Vries. “They can be hacked. They can be overridden. People don’t realize that, and that’s the scary part of cybersecurity.”

De Vries, who is setting up the company’s headquarters on the South Side campus to develop electric vehicles under the brand made famous by the “Back to the Future” movies of the 1980s, was among dozens of thought leaders who spoke at the Cyber ​​Future Summit 2022, an annual convention that drew 733 people in person and virtually to the Tech Port Center.

Having the internationally recognized Cyber ​​Future Summit held at the port’s $70 million tech-centric venue represents another feather in its cap and further validates the city’s ongoing efforts to compete for highly valued cybersecurity companies and jobs. As the port continues to build a reputation among local tech-cyber insiders for housing the city’s largest concentration of tech workers, investors across the country and the world are promoting the 1,900-acre campus as the next big cyber hub.

“San Antonio represents a model ecosystem for us in cybersecurity,” said Valmiki Mukherjee, founder and chairman of the Dallas-based Cyber ​​Future Foundation, which decided to bring the summit here after visiting the Tech Port Center during its construction last year. “There are valuable assets here to be brought together.”

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Thanks to years of investment, the port’s campus now houses around 2,000 cybersecurity workers among approximately 16,000 employees in tenant companies and organizations. In addition to cybersecurity, professionals at the port focus on robotics, aerospace, space exploration, advanced manufacturing, supply chains and other sectors.

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Port San Antonio CEO Jim Perschbach has earned a reputation in the cybersecurity industry as something of a matchmaker with a knack for connecting digital experts with firms already on campus.

“You’re matching people who really understand cybersecurity with a lot of the industries that need cybersecurity, like aerospace, infrastructure and manufacturing,” he said earlier this month.

With Perschbach at the helm, the port has aggressively invested in attracting cyber security companies and projects.

In August, Two Six Technologies, a Virginia company with a roster of national security clients, announced it was opening an office at the port to pursue cyber contracts with the U.S. Air Force. Two Six said 12 full-time employees would work on campus near current and potential Defense Department customers.

In January, the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute, or CyManII, announced it will build the Texas Manufacturing Transformation Hub in a 14,000-square-foot facility here to train 1 million manufacturing and supply chain workers in cybersecurity tactics by 2026. In December 2026, the city of San Antonio launched its Alamo Regional Security Operations Center in a 20,000-square-foot center here to provide 24-hour cyber teams to defend regional municipalities.

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To handle incoming growth, Perschabach said earlier this year that plans are underway to build on campus to house more cyber workers in new offices, including a nearly 300,000-square-foot office slated to break ground in 2023.

“There’s going to be a lot more companies and growth in the applied end of cybersecurity,” Perschbach said this month. “We’re running out of space on campus right now, and that’s why we’re launching the new buildings and the new construction just to support those operations.”

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For Perschbach, the port’s hosting of the Cyber ​​Future Summit shows that its standing in the industry is rising and that its match-making business strategy is taking root.

“What I love about it is that it wasn’t just cybersecurity for cybersecurity’s sake,” he said. “It’s not just a technical discussion about cyber security. They add together the manufacturing base and mobility transportation, and that’s where we need to take cybersecurity and industry as the world becomes more interconnected.”

The summit here was a chance for cyber experts and enthusiasts – who spoke on panels such as “Building a cyber resilient business” and “Next generation of cyber talent” – to network, eat pastries and drink beer in the on-site food hall.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg mingled with hundreds of business leaders, former NSA agents, U.S. Cyber ​​Command executives and digital officers in Ukraine, who appeared in person and virtually.

Nirenberg noted that the city is home to the Air Force Cyber ​​Headquarters, the NSA’s Texas Cryptologic Center, the Alamo Regional Security Operations Center and the University of Texas at San Antonio, which has one of the nation’s top cybersecurity programs.

He said San Antonio needs to “redouble” efforts to attract more venture capital and talent, since the city’s economy “rests on our ability to be an emerging force in cybersecurity.”

“Cyberspace and the cyber ecosystem in general continue to grow in importance and influence,” Nirenberg told the audience. “Our world is already changing dramatically as a result, and our society is in a position to benefit.”

The event featured various speakers, who warned about how people don’t realize that their computers, iPhones, smart home apps and cars are vulnerable to digital threats, while offering possible solutions.

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In one session, Jeff Fair, a former NSA employee who became vice president of cybersecurity and economic development at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said cybersecurity has long been important to the health care industry.

“Now we’re starting to think about the explosion of medical technology,” Fair said. “What we’re going to start to see is a true proliferation of devices that are going to have some kind of embedded software, connectivity, all of which we as cybersecurity professionals need to be aware of.”

During Perschbach’s opening remarks at the conference, he said that when he joined Port San Antonio in 2014, he “would have been dismissive of all these cybersecurity people” gathered on campus.

“I just didn’t think it mattered,” Perschbach said, noting that Port San Antonio, formerly the site of Kelly Air Force Base, had been known as an aerospace industrial park, led by Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. and their repair, maintenance and overhaul of aircraft. “I didn’t think it had any bearing on airplanes, so I thought it wasn’t for me.”

Perschbach said his opinion changed several years later after attending aerospace conferences and learning that airplanes and engines used computers that needed network protection. He sought out local cybersecurity companies to fill the gap and move onto campus.

“We looked at cyber originally as something that could augment space travel,” Perschbach said in a follow-up interview. “Now we want to find the companies, the people, the talent, the technologies that add some value to people that we already have here on campus.”

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