Cyber Security Range Opens in Baltimore with a Little Help from Israel

Bruce Spector shows off the training center at the Baltimore Cyber Range. (David Stuck)

Bruce Spector couldn’t help but smile and revel in the moment. Less than a year after he helped conceptualize the idea for a city-based cybersecurity training center, Baltimore Cyber Range celebrated its opening at Power Plant Live on Aug. 3.

Spector’s company, Pikesville- based Electronic Technology Associates (ETA), operates the range, which uses a platform developed by Israeli technology firm Cyberbit to provide security teams hands-on simulations in realistic settings.

Spector, 61, founder and CEO of ETA, told the JT the goal of the range is to attract the most talented individuals to meet a growing demand in the cybersecurity industry. In turn, he hopes Baltimore morphs into the “cyber- security training mecca of the United States, if not” the world.

“Anybody who is involved in cybersecurity, we want them to join us, because we think we can make them better,” Spector said. “I’m a Baltimore boy, and I’ve been doing this kind of work for 35 years. Nothing gives me greater joy than being able to see a project like this happen.”

The range’s ribbon-cutting ceremony drew Gov. Larry Hogan, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, former City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (Bruce’s mother) and other state and city officials, all eager to praise the partnership between ETA and Cyberbit.

Hogan, a Republican, said that Baltimore “is quickly becoming the hotbed of cybersecurity activity” and that the range makes the area an attractive destination for more cybersecurity companies to bring their business.

The idea for the project took shape last September when Spector accompanied Hogan on a week-long trade mission to Israel, where the partnership between ETA and Cyberbit was first announced. The trip was part of a statewide effort Hogan has undertaken to bring resources from Israel’s cybersecurity industry to Maryland as a way to help boost local jobs and businesses.

For its part, the Baltimore Cyber Range is working to lay the groundwork to meet the burgeoning needs of the industry.

Labor statistics data indicate that more than 200,000 U.S. cybersecurity jobs are currently unfilled, Spector said, underscoring the need to develop and train more information technology and cybersecurity professionals. The shortfall is projected to swell to more than 1.5 million by 2019.

“Most of these jobs are right in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., corridor,” Spector said. “We have the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon and other government agencies all right here, so we couldn’t ask for a better fit.”

Maryland boasts more than 12,000 information technology and cybersecurity companies — including four from Israel — that serve organizations such as the NSA, making the state an ideal breeding ground for cybersecurity specialists.

Stephen Thomas, general manager of Cyberbit North America, said he expects 1,000 people annually to receive training at the range, which is Cyberbit’s 12th location worldwide but first in the United States. There are plans in development for Cyberbit, a subsidiary of defense company Elbit Systems, to expand in the region, including Virginia.

“This is probably the best example of how quickly we can bring technologies from Israel here to the U.S. market,” Thomas said.

The center welcomes anyone, Spector said, including fresh-faced high school and college graduates with no cyber- security experience and well-trained, skilled professionals looking to enhance their skills. Participants will be trained on Cyberbit’s “Range Platform,” allowing them a chance to combat cyberattacks in real time without the risk of damaging a real network.

Spector said he expects the range, which has held classes since July, to grow from its current total of 10 employees to 100 by year’s end.

“It would give me no greater satisfaction than to bring more high-paying jobs to my hometown,” Spector said. “We want to provide long-term, viable careers for people who come to this range.”

Pugh, a Democrat, agreed, noting it’s essential that individuals are equipped with the proper tools to make their mark in a booming industry.

“We are going to create jobs and connect people to the jobs of the future,” Pugh said. “It’s more than just training people for jobs — it’s training people for the right jobs.”

From left: Former City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki Spector, Gov. Larry Hogan and Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation celebrate the Cyber Range’s opening. (David Stuck)

The center is funded with a $250,000 state grant through the Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) that paved the way for ETA to put together a consortium of public and private companies. The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore provided the consortium a $10,000 grant for locating within the city, creating an opportunity Spector said was too good to pass up.

The range compromises 6,000 square feet on two separate floors in Spark Baltimore at 8 Market Place. It’s part classrooms, part office space, part training center and also includes a lobby. The training center, which takes up about 1,000 square feet, seats five professionals, one instructor and one observer in a tightly bunched space with state-of-the-art computers, servers and routers.

But at the opening, part of the lobby had been cleared to make way for a lectern, dozens of chairs and refreshment tables. Crowd members were taken up to the training center in small groups and treated to live demonstrations and discussions of the “Range Platform.”

After hearing the dignitaries speak, some in the audience said they felt the addition of the range would fill a niche to assist private and public-sector organizations against the latest real-world cyber threats.

Abba Poliakoff, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the range will do a lot for cybersecurity innovation.

“This is what is really going to propel Baltimore into the next generation and help propel the area into the Silicon Valley of cybersecurity,” said Poliakoff, who was on last year’s trade mission to Israel.

Barry Bogage, executive director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center, pointed to the high priority he feels Maryland and Israel have put on cybersecurity as a reason to be optimistic for the range’s success.

“It’s a natural for this area to blossom in cybersecurity,” said Bogage, who was also on the Israel mission trip and introduced Spector to Hogan. “Israel and Maryland are arguably the strongest places in the world for developing cybersecurity.”

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation — mentioning economic, academic, societal and religious ties — said individuals should take comfort in the protection the range will provide to their digital experience.

“Anything involving Israeli businesses and the city and state and country is very important to the future,” said Wohlberg, who delivered a prayer and hung a mezuzah outside the door to the training center. “We live in a world in which we need protection from the evil spirits that are out there. In this place, advances are being made to provide us with security, security for threats from without and security from jobseekers within.”

The benefits for Israel and Maryland run both ways, Spector said.

“The Israeli and Jewish technology is so well thought of that the officials in Maryland want to bring that technology here,” Spector said. “So I’m extremely proud that we’re going to be able to do that.”

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