There's never been a better time to be in the cybersecurity, former CIA director David Petraeus told a crowd gathered at The Broadmoor Wednesday for the inaugural National Cyber Symposium.
Petraeus kicked off the two-day event that aims to solidify the city's position as a leader in battling hackers. It's a business Colorado Springs and Colorado are investing in, with the National Cybersecurity Center growing on North Nevada Avenue.
"The building blocks are here and it is very, very impressive," said Petraeus, who drew a crowd of more than 400.
The center and the symposium are aimed at helping local governments and small to mid-sized businesses navigate the world of cyber security. It's hoped that focus fills a gap in the cyber business that's not covered by places like Seattle and Silicon Valley, which gravitate to individual consumers or huge contracts.
That's an area that National Cybersecurity Center boss Vance Brown said is ripe for growth.
"There really is a cybersecurity crisis going on," Brown said.
The issue of hacking isn't going away, Petraeus said.
"Look, remember, I was in the breaking and entering business as the director of the CIA," Petraeus said.
"You obviously want to make it as difficult as you can."
The cyber effort in Colorado Springs has some big boosters. Mayor John Suthers and Gov. John Hickenlooper are set to speak during the symposium and both played a big role in getting the center formed.
Suthers said the cyber effort could equal the city's famed ties to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"Colorado Springs is already one of the top cities for cybersecurity jobs," Suthers said.
Another speaker is University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Chancellor Venkat Reddy, who told the crowd how the school is working to beef up its computer security training.
Colorado Springs has long been a hub for military cyber operations. Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base runs that service's computer network. U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs runs the Joint Cyber Center, which aims to protect the continent from cyber attack while helping local authorities deal with the consequences of internet warfare.
Hickenlooper said the military presence in Colorado Springs, combined with its colleges, makes it the perfect place to be a national leader in cybersecurity.
"If you really create this ecosystem, Colorado Springs is perfect for it," Hickenlooper said.
Petraeus said cybersecurity is a business that's going to require agility.
"This is changing so rapidly, we can't even keep up with it conceptually," he said.
The retired general, who led the American effort in Iraq and Afghanistan is worried that terror groups could build malware that could be used as a weapon, hitting power grids, factories, airplanes and subways.
"What's to stop them from hitting the send key?" he said.
Efforts like the one in Colorado Springs could spur solutions to those threats. But slow growth isn't going to work, Petraeus warned.
"We really, really need to move more rapidly," he said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240