Cyber Monday puts spotlight on Md. firms that keep it all secure
Posted: 7:28 pm Mon, November 26, 2012
By Alissa Gulin
Daily Record Business Writer
As consumers feverishly clicked from website to website and filled their virtual shopping carts with heavily discounted items, teams of Maryland cybersecurity professionals spent Cyber Monday monitoring their activity behind the scenes.
The Monday after Thanksgiving is the biggest day of the year for online retailers, and for the firms that make it their business to protect a client’s business, the enormous volume of Internet activity generated that day represents the ultimate test. As Cyber Monday becomes more popular year by year, the demand for more and better protections grows, experts said.
“Is our business greater today than yesterday because of Cyber Monday? The answer is no,” said Andrew Young, vice president of product management for authentication at SafeNet Inc., a Belcamp-based information security company whose services include securing electronic banking transfers. “But over time, as more retailers are going online and are concerned about the security of their business, that’s absolutely driving our growth.”
With increased public awareness around cybersecurity, additional government regulations and stricter conditions imposed by credit card companies and others, businesses are increasingly seeking advanced solutions to secure the personal information of their customers, Young said.
“The technology just creates e-commerce,” said Rick Geritz, chairman of CyberMaryland, a public/private partnership providing resources to firms in the field. “I think it’s only going to go up and up and up. E-commerce is so efficient … I think the convenience and the personalized service is just going to get better and better and better.”
“There’s no doubt about it,” said Ellen Hemmerly, executive director of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s research and technology park, bwtech@UMBC. “Certainly, the more commerce that is conducted online creates greater need for the cybersecurity tools that companies like ours are developing.”
Maryland and its brick-and-mortar merchants don’t stand much to gain from the online shopping trend, said Maryland Retailers Association President Patrick Donoho. Business owners — in Maryland and elsewhere — have struggled to compete with Internet giants like Amazon.com, and the state government will miss out on about $200 million in unpaid sales tax from online purchases, he said — an estimate released recently by the Maryland Comptroller’s office.
But while the online shopping craze is a nationwide trend, Maryland’s economy is uniquely positioned to reap benefits from the activity. Nowhere, said several experts, is there ground more fertile for cultivating startup cybersecurity firms — and sustaining existing ones — than in the Maryland region.
“Basically, Maryland is the hub of cybersecurity for the world,” Geritz said. “There is a very, very vibrant startup community. There are 23,000 jobs currently open in cybersecurity in Maryland that can’t be filled right now. So, fundamentally, you have underemployment in cybersecurity even in this economy.”
Home to the National Security Agency headquarters and a handful of large, prominent firms with government contracts, the state has claimed the federal dollars to establish itself as the authority in the industry, experts said.
And with an extensive network of business incubators, technology development centers and university research programs, as well as substantial investments from private parties, Maryland will likely sustain its leadership position, they said.
That means when large retailers need reliable data encryption or malware protection — for Cyber Monday, for example — they will be more likely to consider spending their dollars at a cyber company in Maryland, of which there are approximately 420, according to Geritz’s estimate.
“I think [retailers] are going to go wherever the companies are that are developing the state-of-the-art innovations,” Hemmerly said. “Maryland is not the only state that has interesting companies, but it’s one of the leaders. So I think it’s always going to be natural to look at companies in Maryland.”
Because consumer habits are constantly evolving, the technology that protects them must follow suit, experts said.
Several early-stage companies have tapped into the increasing demand for consumer data security, a need that becomes especially palpable on Cyber Monday because of the enormous volume of webpage visits and transactions. There are 25 startup companies in the Cyber Incubator at bwtech@UMBC, plus another 16 that are a bit further along, Hemmerly said.