Houston college system opens new cybersecurity training facility

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Houston Community College has made a big move to prepare the future of cybersecurity. Photo via Getty Images

A center created to train future cybersecurity specialists recently opened at Houston Community College’s West Loop campus.

The center, featuring equipment such as a miniature water plant and a car-hacking workbench, simulates cyberattacks. HCC cybersecurity students will undergo training there. Of the college’s more than 500 cybersecurity students, over 300 are pursuing associate degrees and over 200 are working toward certificates.

“Students who complete an associate degree or certificate in cybersecurity at HCC are landing high-paying jobs right out of the gate such as IT help desk and computer support specialists,” Samir Saber, dean of HCC’s Digital Information and Technology Center of Excellence, says in a news release. “Others go on to become security analysts, security engineers and cybersecurity architects.”

Employers in the U.S. are struggling to fill nearly 715,000 cybersecurity job openings, according to CyberSeek, which tracks supply-and-demand data for the cybersecurity workforce. That number includes more than 83,000 cybersecurity openings in Texas, with nearly 9,300 of those in the Houston area.

In Texas, the annual pay for a cybersecurity worker averages $88,276, according to career platform ZipRecruiter. The national average is $112,974.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of people working as an information security analyst (a subset of the cybersecurity workforce) in this country will rise 33 percent from 2020 to 2030. That makes it one of the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. From May 2021 through April 2022, there were 180,000 openings for information security analysts, according to CyberSeek.

“Cybersecurity is national security,” says Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, president of HCC Southwest and vice chancellor of HCC Workforce Instruction. “With the opening of the new center, the college is equipping students with the skills needed not only for their careers but also for making a lasting impact on the nation’s security across industries and organizations.”

A $650,000 state grant financed the new training center, and cybersecurity company Grimm helped install the lab and trained HCC cybersecurity instructors.

In 2017, HCC was designated by the National Security Agency as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense. The new lab will help the college maintain that status for another five years, Saber says.

GP Capital Partners is a part of a new initiative to provide training and job placement for future cybersecurity professionals. Photo via Getty Images

Houston firm makes investment into growing, upskilling cybersecurity workforce

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Two investment firms have partnered to launch a cybersecurity workforce accelerator focused on attracting and training cybersecurity professionals.

Houston-based private credit and equity investment firm GP Capital Partners has teamed up with LP First Capital, a private equity firm with offices in Austin and New York, to form National Cyber Group. The new entity, headquartered in Washington, D.C., will provide foundational IT certification training, job placement resources, and more, according to a news release.

"There is a need for 2 million cybersecurity jobs in the United States today, and most of these are at the entry-level," says Gina Luna, managing partner of GP Capital Partners, specifying that the challenges within the industry include rapid global digitization, technology barriers to training, and increasing competing interests.

"The situation seems insurmountable unless cyber workforce development efforts — training and job placement— outpace global digitalization and conflict," she tells InnovationMap.

Luna says this initiative is similar to the work she did with the Greater Houston Partnership in founding UpSkill Houston almost 10 years ago. However, there is still a need for well-trained, entry-level cybersecurity talent across thousands of businesses and government entities.

National Cyber Group differs from what else is out there in that it provides low-cost, hands-on training with its CyberNow Labs and professional development and job placement services to the equation.

GP Capital Partners' investment included senior secured term debt and a direct equity investment. According to the release, these proceeds along with LPFC's investment, funded the acquisition of the two companies —Total Seminars and CyberNow Labs — and position National Cyber Group to grow and scale the platform over the next few years.

“The formation of National Cyber Group is a direct response to the current cyber talent deficit, and is the collective work of mission-motivated, enterprising individuals who love America and have together taken initiative to create a nationally needed capability, that also changes peoples’ lives for the better every day,” says Gabe Schrade, managing director at LP First Capital, in the release.

Luna says this is a huge opportunity for Houston, as the city's tech jobs continue to grow, and the city continues to be a major hub for tech talent.

"There are many Houston companies that need well-trained, qualified cybersecurity analysts and many hard-working Houstonians that would find a career in cybersecurity an attractive path to better opportunity for themselves and their families. National Cyber Group can provide both, which is certainly good for Houston," she says.


Gina Luna, partner at GP Partners Gina Luna is managing partner of GP Capital Partners. Photo courtesy

Houston companies need cybersecurity professionals — and universities can help. Photo via Getty Images

How universities can help equip Houston with a skilled cybersecurity workforce

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With an increasing number of data breaches, a high job growth rate, and a persistent skills gap, cybersecurity professionals will be some of the most in-demand workers in 2022. It’s more important than ever to have people that are properly trained to protect individuals, corporations, and communities.

Demand for cybersecurity talent in Texas is high. According to Burning Glass Labor Insights, employers in the Houston metro area have posted over 24,000 cybersecurity jobs since the beginning of 2021. But the pipeline of cybersecurity workers is very low, which means many local and national companies don’t have enough people on the front lines defending against these attacks.

Unfortunately, it looks like the cybersecurity skills gap is far from over. An annual industry report from the Information Systems Security Association shows that the global demand for cybersecurity skills still far exceeds the current supply of traditionally qualified individuals, with 38 percent of cybersecurity roles currently unfilled. This shortage has real-life, real-world consequences that can result in misconfigured systems and improper risk assessment and management.

How can companies help close the cybersecurity skills gap within their own organizations? We believe it will become increasingly important to look beyond “traditionally qualified” candidates and view hands-on experience as the same, or even more important than, the certifications or bachelor degree requirements often found in cybersecurity job descriptions.

The top open cybersecurity roles in the Houston area include analysts, managers, engineers, and developers. Employees in these positions are essential to the everyday monitoring, troubleshooting, testing and analyzing that helps companies protect data and stay one step ahead of hackers. When looking to fill these roles, hiring managers should be looking for candidates with both the knowledge and experience to take on these critical positions.

Fortunately, Houston-based companies looking to establish, grow, or upskill their cybersecurity teams don’t have to go far to find top-tier talent and training programs. More local colleges and universities are offering alternative credential programs, like boot camps, that provide students with the deep understanding and hands-on learning they need to excel in the roles that companies need to fill.

2U, Inc. and Rice University have partnered to power a data-driven, market-responsive cybersecurity boot camp that provides students with hands-on training in networking, systems, web technologies, databases, and defensive and offensive cybersecurity. Over 40 percent of the students didn’t have bachelor degrees prior to enrolling in the program. Since launching in 2019, the program has produced more than 140 graduates, some of whom have gone on to work in cybersecurity roles at local companies such as CenterPoint Energy, Fulcrum Technology Solutions, and Hewlett Packard.

Recognizing programs like university boot camps as local workforce generators not only gives companies a larger talent pool to recruit from, but also increases the opportunity for cybersecurity teams to diversify and include professionals with different experiences and backgrounds. We’re living in a security-first world, and the right mix of cybersecurity talent is essential to keeping us protected wherever we are.

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David Vassar is the assistant dean of Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University. Bret Fund is vice president overseeing cybersecurity programs at 2U.

"Hackers are getting ready, so you need to be ready, too." Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Prime times for cyber-attacks and how to stay protected

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October is cybersecurity awareness month. The topic might sound overwhelming, and it certainly can be, but there are a few easy ways we can educate and protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Be mindful of timing

Cyber actors target certain times to strike. Experts warn that holiday weekends like Thanksgiving are some of the most prolific times for scammers, who never take a vacation. They can defraud and monetize their actions with little effort.

Why?

During holiday weekends, many people make plans and shop -- online or on a mobile device -- and document their activities on social media. Holidays also come with an elevated amount of email and financial activity, all conveniently while people are "checked out" or traveling. Inboxes become overloaded with holiday messaging and deals.

Attacking someone's account can go unnoticed longer if that person is away from their computer. Or a hacker might execute a well-timed phishing attack for a Friday afternoon, right before someone goes on vacation.

Imagine planning a getaway to Galveston and an email arrives about your hotel confirmation or coupons to attractions at Pleasure Pier. Something like that might be ignored most of the time, but when you're amped up and packing your bags for vacation, it could be enticing.

Protect yourself 

Now that you have some context of when these attempts could happen, here are a few steps you can take now to protect yourself:


Don't click on suspicious links

If you don't know the sender of a text or email, don't open links they contain. Viruses and malware can start pulling information from your personal accounts. Some may look like they are coming from a friend or coworker. Or if the sender looks like a company you do business with and tells you to click a link or call a number, don't call, or click. Instead, call the customer service number on your regular bill and ask if the message is legitimate. In the case above, it may be an attempt to get personal information or scam you.

Remember, government agencies, banks, and other legitimate companies will never ask for personal or financial information, like usernames, passwords, PINs, or credit or debit card numbers by unsolicited text message. If someone calls asking for payment or personal information, tell them you'll call them back and go to the official website and call the real number to see if there is an actual issue.

Block spam calls

AT&T blocks or labels about 1 billion robocalls each month, and our patented, automated scanning helps block spam texts. So, while it may seem like your phone is ringing non-stop with spam calls and even spam texts, imagine how many are blocked. To reduce the number of annoying calls you get each day, find a good calling blocking app. The free AT&T Call ProtectSM app includes spam and automatic fraud call blocking, warns you of incoming nuisance calls, lets you customize your robocall protection and even create your own personal block list.

Become Cyber Aware

As hackers and their scams become more sophisticated, it can seem daunting to protect your accounts, devices and information. Don't despair. Learn how to outsmart the bad guys on att.com/cyberaware. You'll find timely news and information, a quiz to assess your personal risk, and valuable advice for real-life situations, such as what to do if you clicked, answered, or opened a potential scam.

With holiday season around the corner, keep in mind that you aren't the only one preparing for time off or a long weekend. Hackers are getting ready, so you need to be ready, too.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.

Chevron has tapped SecurityGate.io's risk management cybersecurity platform. Photo courtesy of Security Gate

Houston cybersecurity startup nabs Chevron partnership

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A Houston-based cybersecurity software-as-a-service startup has inked a new partnership with Chevron for its risk management platform.

SecurityGate.io announced this week that Chevron has selected their risk management platform for scaling operational technology cybersecurity.

"We're very excited to be working with Chevron as they replace manual, spreadsheet cybersecurity practices with scalable, digitized processes," says Ted Gutierrez, CEO at SecurityGate.io, in a press release. "Their risk management team has done amazing work and it's exciting to see where they're headed."

Earlier this summer, SecurityGate closed a series A fundraising round at an undisclosed amount with investment from Houston Ventures. The company cites other oil and gas clients, such as West Lake Chemical, Diamond Offshore and Paterson UTI.

According to the press release, Chevron will use the SecurityGate.io platform to:

  • Scale and increase the speed of cyber assessments.
  • Create consistency to performance metrics and reports, which will enable tracking and accuracy.
  • Use the platform's dashboards and reports to bridge the IT/OT gap within the company's workflow and global risk management team to decentralize many processes and empower facility risk owners.
SecurityGate, which created a case study for its technology for Chevron, also conducted an interview with Chevron's Kenny Mesker, who said that the software's automation helped greatly as Chevron transitioned projects into remote work amid the pandemic, saying that Chevron "had a number of projects that did not stop at all. [Because of SecurityGate.io] it was just as easy to do them without any travel or physical presence, and that would have been impossible before."


Houston-based SecurityGate Chevron has tapped SecurityGate.io's risk management cybersecurity platform. Photo via securitygate.io

Cybersecurity startup, SecurityGate, has developed a new feature in its technology to help support companies safely bring back employees into the office. Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Houston startup releases new tool to help companies get employees safely back into work

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Houston-based software startup SecurityGate Inc. focuses on cyber-risk management for major energy, chemical, transportation, and defense companies. But this spring, SecurityGate shifted to a different type of risk management — keeping workplaces healthy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

When SecurityGate recently started reopening the gates, so to speak, for its 15 employees to go back to the office after working remotely, the company wanted to track their health. So SecurityGate turned to Excel spreadsheets for employees to fill out a 10-point questionnaire aimed at gauging their health. It didn't take long, though, for the company to realize it could ditch the spreadsheets and layer the wellness questionnaire on top of its cyber-risk management software.

Now, SecurityGate is inviting companies inside and outside its core sectors to sign up for its cloud-based wellness technology, available through an online platform and a mobile app. The goal: Help employers incorporate health screenings into their return-to-work initiatives. Employers in North America and Europe can install the technology.

"The biggest thing that I want people to know is you don't have to come up with your own workflow and you don't have to spend tons of money to get your people back to work," says Ted Gutierrez, co-founder and CEO of the three-year-old startup. "There's a company out there that is already doing this for a living, so this is the least we could do to help out."

The wellness technology is a free add-on for customers of SecurityGate's existing products, a software-as-a-service platform and a mobile app for managing cybersecurity risks that threaten critical infrastructure. Gutierrez says those products help protect nearly 30 global facilities valued at $300 billion.

Companies that aren't customers of SecurityGate can take advantage of the wellness platform and app at no cost through at least July 31, Gutierrez says. Among the soon-to-be users of the coronavirus-inspired technology is a residential real estate firm in Houston with nearly 100 employees. While SecurityGate's current customers are big companies, the wellness technology should appeal to small, midsize, and large employers, he says.

"This is going to be opened up to any company that needs help. We believe that the majority of users that are going to sign up are companies ranging between 50 and 500 employees and in any industry," Gutierrez says.

By May 15, about 15 to 20 companies are expected to have signed up for the wellness technology, Gutierrez says. He envisions that number rising to 200 to 300 by June 1. The online platform should be ready in late May, while the mobile app should be available by June 1.

Each user of the wellness tool will receive a COVID-19 care package that includes items like face masks, gloves, and sanitizers.

Gutierrez says the technology can help monitor the health of not only on-site and off-site employees, but also contractors and office visitors. Any user of the technology can submit a coronavirus assessment without being directed to complete one, he says. It takes less than 90 seconds to fill out the wellness assessment.

"Traditionally with SecurityGate, the 'owner' of the SecurityGate platform has to assign [cyber-risk] assessments to facility owners," Gutierrez says. "This app is going to be able to get used at any given time by any user."

All of this data is funneled into a central database so that an employer can, for instance, order in-house coronavirus testing or ask employees to stay at home if they're exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, Gutierrez says. The data isn't automatically supplied to public health agencies, he says, although an employer could decide on its own to publicly report the data.

"This is purely a workforce management option," Gutierrez says. "It's still to be determined whether this turns into a revenue generator for us. The most important thing that we can do is to help whatever ecosystem needs help right now and get them back to work."

Gutierrez credits Cherise Esparza, co-founder and chief technology officer of SecurityGate, with being the primary driver of the return-to-work wellness effort.

"We are the risk management folks," Gutierrez explains, "and getting back to work safely is just as important as making sure that all your critical systems are working from a cyber perspective."

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Houston-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

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On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

Houston nonprofit unveils new and improved bayou cleaning vessel

litter free

For over 20 years, a nonprofit organization has hired people to clean 14 miles of bayou in Houston. And with a newly updated innovative boat, keeping Buffalo Bayou clean just got a lot more efficient.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveils its newest version of the Bayou-Vac this week, and it's expected to be fully operational this month. BBP Board Member Mike Garver designed both the initial model of the custom-designed and fabricated boat as well as the 2022 version. BBP's Clean & Green team — using Garver's boat — has removed around 2,000 cubic yards of trash annually, which is the equivalent of about 167 commercial dump trucks. The new and improved version is expected to make an even bigger impact.

“The Bayou-Vac is a game changer for our program,” says BBP field operations manager, Robby Robinson, in a news release. “Once up and running, we foresee being able to gain an entire workday worth of time for every offload, making us twice as efficient at clearing trash from the bayou.”

Keeping the bayou clean is important, since the water — and whatever trash its carrying — runs off into Galveston Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The improvements made to the Bayou-Vac include removable dumpsters that can be easily swapped out, slid off, and attached to a dump truck. The older model included workers having to manually handle trash and debris and a secondary, land-based vacuum used to suck out the trash from onboard.

Additionally, the Bayou-Vac now has a moveable, hydraulic arm attached to the bow of the vessel that can support the weight of the 16-foot vacuum hose. Again, this task was something done manually on the previous model of the Bayou-Vac.

“BBP deeply appreciates the ingenuity of our board member Mike Garver and the generosity of Sis and Hasty Johnson and the Kinder Foundation, the funders of the new Bayou-Vac,” BBP President Anne Olson says in the release. “We also thank the Harris County Flood Control District and Port Houston for their longtime support of BBP’s Clean & Green Program.”