The growth of the cybersecurity industry in Colorado Springs was in the spotlight at the Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium as generals and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper touted the burgeoning field in the Pikes Peak region.
The Air Force announced its Cyberworx center at the Air Force Academy is now operational, channeling the talents of 4,000 cadets, leading professors and the state's cyber businesses into computer security solutions for the Pentagon. Hickenlooper announced Wednesday that cybersecurity payrolls across the state have grown to 85,000 workers, including 13,000 cybersecurity experts in Colorado Springs.
"We're hoping it will be a world-class destination for training our cyber workforce," Hickenlooper said of Colorado Springs, home to the state-backed National Cybersecurity Center, which helps business and local governments deal with computer security challenges.
The new Cyberworx center at the academy could also be a driver for growth in Colorado Springs. Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson touted the center as a partnership which can help area colleges and businesses hone their cybersecurity skills.
"It can be a real catalyst," Johnson said.
The center has already completed three projects for the Air Force to help the service monitor its computer networks and to better spot hacking threats.
Gen. Jay Raymond, who heads Air Force Space Command, which includes the service's computer warfare arm, said getting tech-savvy cadets to pitch in on cyber security makes sense.
"We have 4,000 bright minds that can help take us to a new level," Raymond said.
The Air Force is working to change how it approaches operations in cyberspace. Raymond said a key to that initiative is in the training of its computer warfare experts. The general is examining a plan that would use the skills airmen already have and expand on that base. Now, computer warfare experts are trained like pilots, with instructors who assume they know nothing about the field.
Raymond said the training changes were inspired, in part, by research already completed at Cyberworx.
"I would encourage Cyberworx to take risks and be willing to fail," Raymond said. "That's not something the rest of the Air Force is comfortable with," he said.
Hickenlooper pledged that the state will also continue to focus on cybersecurity. Initiatives include a push to train state and local politicians at the National Cybersecurity Center and an increased emphasis on education programs that get students the skills they need to work in the high-paying industry.
"Colorado Springs is, in many ways, a model for the state," Hickenlooper said, noting college and high school cybersecurity programs here.
Getting skilled workers is a key concern for the industry, said Robert Wright, head of the local chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association which hosted the symposium.
"It's one thing to say you have 2,000 job vacancies, it's another thing to have a pipeline to fill them."
Wright's association has given nearly $120,000 in grants to schools and college scholarships in the Pikes Peak region to encourage young people to pursue cyber careers.
While building the workforce remains a work-in-progress, Wright said the Pikes Peak region is quickly emerging as a cybersecurity powerhouse. The symposium, which wraps up Thursday, drew 2,200 participants making it one of the largest cybersecurity events in the nation.
"It's all good news," Wright said.