When St. Philip’s College cybersecurity professor Haydar Thomas Sahin heard about a Texas company’s technology that promised to flummox the hacking world, he knew it was something he and his students had to experience.
For the past few weeks, the college’s club of “cyber tigers” has been trying without success to break through a system that veers from the the typical “blacklist” approach in protecting computers. And the college has invited White Cloud CEO Steve Shanklin to be a presenter next week during an April 15 and 16 cybersecurity conference on campus.So he reached out to the company, White Cloud Security, and visited with Tom Anascavage, its San Antonio-based co-founder.
It will be the second major tech event in the Alamo City in as many weeks, and it comes as city leaders look to the industry for direction on bolstering a tech sector by collaborating in training initiatives and economic impact studies.
On Thursday, some 1,500 techies will convene at the Convention Center for InnoTech San Antonio, the city’s ninth annual comprehensive technology conference. It follows an InnoTech symposium directed at emerging medical technology on Wednesday.
The highlight of St. Philip’s conference will be the launch of the college’s first-of-its-kind Cyber First Responders network. The goal is to establish a nationwide volunteer network of information technology experts who will be available to respond to infrastructure attacks or other major cyber emergencies. It’s being funded by a $500,000 grant Sahin won from the National Science Foundation.
The city has been waking up to its potential as a hub of tech and particularly of cybersecurity, said recently elected U.S. Rep. William Hurd, a cybersecurity expert who previously worked undercover for the CIA.
“You have businesses and then you have the education element …so you have the potential workforce that has experience in these areas,” Hurd said. “And then you have local government officials that are understanding of these issues and want to see this move forward. And the fourth area is (businesses are) starting to get capital, outside venture capital investing in San Antonio.
“So San Antonio is definitely poised to be in a position to continue the movement in becoming a leader in this space.”
Organizers of the conferences said it is vital to develop a more integrated tech community.
“As tech in San Antonio grows, we need these opportunities for members of the tech sector to get together and collaborate and share ideas,” said Shaun Williams, one of InnoTech San Antonio’s 2015 co-chairs. “It’s a rapidly growing industry, and it’s a rapidly growing sector. However, it is distributed and in some ways very siloed,”
Among other things on the InnoTech agenda: “Big Data @ USAA,” “Nobody Understands the Cloud,” and “Secret Cyber Warriors of San Antonio,” a session led by generals of both the 24th and 25th Air Force cybercommands.
Williams said one of the event’s highlights was the official launch of the “SATecosystem,” which would establish an independent tech council that would supplement the city’s efforts to promote the local industry. San Antonio currently is the only one of the nation’s 10 largest cities not to have such a group, Williams said.
He said another highlight is Thursday morning’s keynote speech by Cisco System’s Leah Lewis, former chief information officer for the state of Colorado.
A third can’t miss is the Women in Tech Roundtable, a panel discussion of the tech industry’s history of alienating women, he said.
Wednesday’s seventh annual emerging medical technology symposium includes presentations on medical startups and trending topics in medical tech.
About 200 attendees are expected to attend the Cyber First Responders Conference at St. Philip’s, including representatives from the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency, as well as local industry and academic leaders.
Sahin said the event had three key components.
First, the launch of the Cyber First Responders network.
“Cyber first responders is a project that we incubated in San Antonio,” Sahin said. “It’s going to be the first of its kind to bring IT professionals under one umbrella as volunteers so that if any disaster occurs …you know where to go and where to call.”
Second, network security training for participants by Rackspace.
And third, presentations by White Cloud and the students who tried to outsmart it.
“We are testing this program in our labs with our students,” Sahin said. “They throw the viruses into this program to see if it catches or not. So it’s a good learning process for students, a good project of academia, private, public institutions working together to get something going.”
Anascavage of White Cloud said the conference offered the company a chance to both share knowledge of cybercrime, “the most lucrative crime in the history of crime,” and unveil what he described as a paradigm shift to fight it.
Essentially, “Lockdown” uses an inventory of trusted applications to identify what should be allowed to run on a user’s machine.
“We are essentially an app firewall that runs in default deny mode,” Anascavage said. “This is the opposite of antivirus and intrusion detection tools.”
He said the approach, which prompted Sahin’s initial call to him, solved the long-standing problems of being able to scale to corporate networks and have users able to operate without hiring specialized security personnel.
“We’re the first ones going in this direction, and it’s extremely exciting,” he said. “If you follow the news, you’re seeing just announcement after announcement of people who are hacked and hacked really bad. … It’s a fire that’s burning and it’s out of control.”