Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors.

Texas A&M says the institute “will conduct high-impact research on threats to and protections for the nation’s security and economy while uniquely preparing students to excel in the ever-growing cybersecurity field.”

Katherine Banks, president of A&M, says the new institute positions the university as a hub for cybersecurity research and education.

“It builds upon the strong base of Texas A&M’s Cybersecurity Center and will help us educate the cybersecurity leaders of the future,” she says in a news release.

Tyson Voelkel, president of the Texas A&M Foundation, emphasizes the institute’s potential to not only prepare students for cybersecurity careers but also to raise awareness of cyberthreats among all students.

“Cybersecurity is a concern for businesses, our economy and our national security that affects both the public and private sector,” Voelkel says.

Revenue in the cybersecurity market is projected to reach $64.86 billion this year, according to data provider Statista. By 2027, that number is expected to climb to $116.3 billion.

In line with that projected revenue growth, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts the number of information security analysts in the U.S. will rise 35 percent between 2021 and 2031. The bureau lists the median pay for an information security analyst as $102,600 per year.

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

Houston college system opens new cybersecurity training facility

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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

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Houston company premieres new platform for gig economy workforce

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As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

NASA launches new research projects toward astronauts on ISS

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For the 26th time, SpaceX has sent up supplies to the International Space Station, facilitating several new research projects that will bring valuable information to the future of space.

On Saturday at 1:20 pm, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — bringing with it more than 7,700 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies, and other cargo. The anticipated docking time is Sunday morning, and the cargo spacecraft will remain aboard the ISS for 45 days, according to a news release from NASA.

Among the supplies delivered to the seven international astronauts residing on the ISS are six research experiments — from health tech to vegetation. Here's a glimpse of the new projects sent up to the scientists in orbit:

Moon Microscope

Image via NASA.gov

Seeing as astronauts are 254 miles away from a hospital on Earth — and astronauts on the moon would be almost 1,000 times further — the need for health technology in space is top of mind for researchers. One new device, the Moon Microscope, has just been sent up to provide in-flight medical diagnosis. The device includes a portable hand-held microscope and a small self-contained blood sample staining tool, which can communicate information to Earth for diagnosis.

"The kit could provide diagnostic capabilities for crew members in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars," reads a news release. "The hardware also may provide a variety of other capabilities, such as testing water, food, and surfaces for contamination and imaging lunar surface samples."

Fresh produce production

Salads simply aren't on the ISS menu, but fresh technology might be changing that. Researchers have been testing a plant growth unit on station known as Veggie, which has successfully grown a variety of leafy greens, and the latest addition is Veg-05 — focused on growing dwarf tomatoes.

Expanded solar panels

Thanks to SpaceX's 22nd commercial resupply mission in 2021, the ISS installed Roll-Out Solar Arrays. Headed to the ISS is the second of three packages to complete the panels that will increase power for the station by 20 to 30 percent. This technology was first tested in space in 2017 and is a key ingredient in future ISS and lunar development.

Construction innovation

Image via NASA.gov

Due to the difference of gravity — and lack thereof — astronauts have had to rethink constructing structures in space. Through a process called extrusion, liquid resin is used to create shapes and forms that cannot be created on Earth. Photocurable resin, which uses light to harden the material into its final form, is injected into pre-made flexible forms and a camera captures footage of the process, per the news release.

"The capability for using these forms could enable in-space construction of structures such as space stations, solar arrays, and equipment," reads the release. "The experiment is packed inside a Nanoracks Black Box with several other experiments from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and is sponsored by the ISS National Lab."

Transition goggles

It's a bizarre transition to go from one gravity field to another — and one that can affect spatial orientation, head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance, and locomotion, and cause some crew members to experience space motion sickness, according to the release.

"The Falcon Goggles hardware captures high-speed video of a subject’s eyes, providing precise data on ocular alignment and balance," reads the release.

On-demand nutrients

Image via NASA.gov

NASA is already thinking about long-term space missions, and vitamins, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals have limited shelf-life. The latest installment in the five-year BioNutrients program is BioNutrients-2 , which tests a system for producing key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage, per the release.

"The researchers also are working to find efficient ways to use local resources to make bulk products such as plastics, construction binders, and feedstock chemicals. Such technologies are designed to reduce launch costs and increase self-sufficiency, extending the horizons of human exploration," reads the release.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.