Greater than four Super Bowls or 14 Comic-Cons — that’s the effect cybersecurity firms are having on San Diego’s regional economy. And the impact is expected to grow as the industry evolves.
This was one of the findings of a recent study prepared for Cyber Center of Excellence by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., CBRE Research and BW Research Partnership.
“It’s actually a hidden secret,” said Peter Martini, president and co-founder of iboss Cybersecurity in San Diego and an adviser on the study. “I think it surprised a lot of the community.”
iboss is one of more than 100 companies in San Diego focused exclusively on cybersecurity.
The skyrocketing demand for cybersecurity services comes at a time when almost daily news reports tell of security breaches.
“We’re moving so quickly into the digital age, the security aspect of it has been left behind,” Martini said. “The more we’re connected, the more opportunity there is to steal, to hack.”
The damage can be extensive. Look at the recent hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the fallout that followed. WikiLeaks published more than 19,000 emails, some of them indicating that the DNC was not impartial in the Democratic race for president and was seemingly undermining candidate Bernie Sanders. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the DNC, resigned two days later. Three other top staffers also resigned.
That kind of breach has many alarmed and is helping to fuel the rise in cybersecurity. The total economic impact of the cybersecurity industry in San Diego is estimated at $1.9 billion, according to the study, with cybersecurity accounting for 7,620 direct jobs in San Diego. That’s a 14.7 percent increase from 2014 when the first review of the industry was done.
Growth in the cybersecurity industry in San Diego is “way ahead of the pace of other industries and the rest of the economy,” said Michael Combs, CBRE research manager. “We have all the right things in place to continue to see that growth.”
San Diego has become a center for the cybersecurity industry because of its many colleges and universities and high-tech industries. There is a collaborative environment in the business community, and San Diego workers aren’t as likely to jump from job-to-job as they are elsewhere, Martini said.
The biggest employer of cybersecurity experts is the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), accounting for about 3,400 jobs in 2016. But an increasing number of cybersecurity jobs are with private companies, which are currently employing about 4,230 people. That number is expected to grow by about 11 percent in the next year.
About a third of the private cybersecurity companies in San Diego reporting in 2104 said they relied solely on government agencies for their business. In 2016, that dropped to about 13 percent as private businesses realized the need to better protect their data, Combs said.
“You’re seeing the industry evolve to more of a mix of customers, looking beyond government contracts,” he said.
One result of the 2014 review was creation of the nonprofit Cyber Center of Excellence to promote the cybersecurity industry in San Diego, to network with cybersecurity firms and to work with regional colleges and universities in training people to work in cybersecurity.
“The only thing that’s slowing cyber down, not just here, but across the country, is we don’t have enough people to fill the jobs,” said Ken Slaght, co-chairman and president of Cyber Center for Excellence.
In August, iboss alone had 60 to 70 job openings that it was having trouble filling, Martini said.
Colleges and universities are scrambling to help close that gap.
University of San Diego and California State University San Marcos have started master’s degree programs in cyber security.
“The University of San Diego went from zero capability to one of the best cybersecurity systems in the country,” Slaght said. “USD is not just a regional gem; it’s a national gem.”
In July 2015, USD formed the Center for Cyber Security, Engineering and Technology. The center offers two advanced degree programs — a cybersecurity engineering master’s, which is taught on campus; and a master’s in cybersecurity operations and leadership, which is taught online, said center director Winnie Callahan.
“The cyber operations and leadership is designed for people who have some experience, perhaps some course work or maybe an undergraduate degree that leads them toward working in a tech environment,” Callahan said. “They actually work cybersecurity in some depth, and they also learn how to lead a cyber or technical group of cybersecurity.”
In cybersecurity engineering, the focus is on building secure systems, she said.
There’s more to come.
“We’re working now on two more degrees that will be announced in the next several months,” Callahan said.
USD also has certificate programs in cybersecurity and has provided training sessions to agencies such as the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as several private companies, she said.
“We work with them to build a particular program or take a look at what they’re doing to keep their employees up to date, and make suggestions,” Callahan said.
CSU San Marcos began offering a master’s degree in cybersecurity in the Fall 2015 semester, said Teresa Macklin, interim director of the program.
The two-year program, taught on campus, merges the business side and the technical side of cybersecurity.
“This program is designed to create ISOs (information security officers),” Macklin said.
As part of the program, students work with private businesses and public agencies on cybersecurity issues.
“I like doing hands-on work,” Macklin said. “I like having students touch the network and touch the computers and understand what they’re really looking at in a business environment.”
The next step is for cybersecurity companies to get more involved with schools, providing internships and reaching down into the high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools to get students interested in cybersecurity careers, Combs said.
“It’s just getting that into students’ heads early on that is important,” he said.
The average annual pay for network-support specialists, jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, is $75,000 a year. The average salary for analysts, computer scientists and software developers with bachelor’s degrees or higher is $116,000 a year, according to the 2016 study.