As the world becomes increasingly connected and technology permeates almost every aspect of business, so too does it become more vulnerable to attack. The market for cyber security services reached $68bn in 2013; between 2017 and 2021, worldwide spending on cyber security products and services is expected to surpass $1000bn, according to research firm Cybersecurity Ventures. It is predicted that cybercrime will cost the world $6000bn annually by 2021. 

In line with its mission to occupy the frontlines of technology, in 1988 Pittsburgh  became home to the world’s first Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (Cert). There are now more than 200 Cert centres in the world focused on computer security response and research.

Advertisement

To serve and protect 

Cert was set up by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and stemmed from the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Software Engineering Institute (SEI), established by the US Department of Defense (DoD) in 1984. The DoD chose CMU to establish the federally funded R&D centre – now funded with between $20m and $25m annually – because of its reputation as having one of the best computer science departments nationally and its proximity to Washington, DC, a four-hour drive away.  

“We work in support of the government and critical infrastructure,” says Summer Fowler, technical director of cyber security resilience and risk at CMU. “We have bodies of work that span everything from secure coding to architecture, workforce development and malware analysis; we have one of the largest databases of malware in the world. One of our big areas is insider threat work, where we have liaisons with the Secret Service, the FBI and more. The beauty is we’re tied very closely to campus, so we work with the university’s teams in machine learning, artificial intelligence and statistics.” 

The Collaborative Innovation Center, which houses the SEI, brings campus researchers and industry together under one roof. “Disney Research is here, CyLab is here, CMU SEI, Intel, Apple and more,” says Randall Trzeciak, a senior member of Cert's technical staff. “We provide the students, and the companies fund the students and research effort as well.” In 2003, CMU invested $6m to institute CyLab, one of the country’s largest university-based cyber security research centres. Almost entirely privately funded, its investors include Facebook, GM, Lockheed Martin, Motorola, Raytheon and Samsung.  

Job opportunities 

Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference for Community Development, sees the field as a growing engine for job creation. “The first federal Cert was established here, and cyber security is becoming a bigger issue and an opportunity for jobs,” he says. Indeed, according to a recent Cisco Annual Security Report, there are predicted to be more than 1 million unfilled cyber security positions worldwide by the end of 2016. In response to this, the Pittsburgh Technology Council launched the Cyburgh, PA Initiative 2016 to reach out to 100% of local high school students by 2019 to develop the next generation of cyber professionals and maintain Pittsburgh’s leading edge. 

Already, the area hosts several cyber security spin-off companies with roots at CMU, some of whom have been acquired by larger multinationals. ABS Computer Technology, ForAllSecure, Netronome Systems, Wombat Security Technologies and Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition – recently acquired by Google – are just a few of the groups driving the region’s efforts in the sector. So far more than 40 businesses in south-western Pennsylvania offer cyber security expertise, and all are poised to take advantage of this rapid growth trend. 

In fact, the Pittsburgh region outbid other US regions to host a German Cyber Security mission in late 2016. The German American Chamber of Commerce wrote on the event’s page: “Since Pittsburgh is the ‘secret capital’ of cyber security on the east coast because of its many companies, like the security division of Google, it is the first destination for the German trade partner.” At its current rate, the region’s prowess will not remain a ‘secret’ for much longer.