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Cybersecurity is one of today’s most challenging concerns. Globally, cyber threats and attacks have seen an exponential rise and as technology advances, cybercriminals become more sophisticated.
To protect digital assets, many businesses, government agencies, and technology firms have found resources and support in an unlikely place.
Just south of Birmingham, the City of Hoover, Alabama (pop. 92,393) has emerged as a premier site of cybersecurity innovation, collaboration, and next-generation solutions. To be fair, the location is not as unlikely as it seems at first. Hoover is strategically located close to a major metropolitan area and has proximity to several universities and research centers.
Hoover is even getting high school students ready for careers in information technology and cybersecurity. Through the Riverchase Career Connection Center, high school students are given an opportunity for career readiness through five anchor programs which include the Cyber Innovation Academy – where students can learn programming, network administration, and cybersecurity.
“The catalytic moment occurred in 2008,” said Greg Knighton, economic development manager for the City of Hoover.
The National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI) – a 40,000-square-foot innovative facility – opened that year in Hoover. Recognized as the premier law enforcement cyber and electronic crime forensics training facility, NCFI provides a central hub for training that includes four multi-purpose classrooms, two network intrusion classrooms, a mock courtroom, and administrative work areas.
A collaboration between the United States Secret Service and the State of Alabama, NCFI has trained more than 20,000 people, Knighton said. “It’s the only facility of its type in the country,” Knighton said.
NCFI provides cybersecurity training for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges. With increasing dependence on technology, cybercriminals will continue to be crafty. When it comes to cybersecurity though, there is almost always a trail that leads back to the criminals.
“As long as people commit crimes, there’s going to be a digital footprint tied to that in some way,” Knighton said.
Image courtesy of Jefferson Santos via Unsplash
Emerging as a cybersecurity hub has created a substantial economic impact for Hoover. While Knighton could not point to a specific number, the amount of business growth that has been generated is benefiting Hoover.
IT companies like Command Alkon and McLeod Software Corporation have not only located operations in the city but consider the area company headquarters as well.
“We have a great history of small companies that have scaled up and grown over the past 15 or 20 years in addition to NCFI,” Knighton said.
He pointed to NXTSoft and ThreatAdvice as examples of companies that have grown in the region. “These companies are providing training and systems to prevent cyber incidents,” Knighton said, “but also helping companies recover faster.”
Companies that are not necessarily in the cyber industry are in the mix too. AT&T Alabama, Regions Bank, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama have also located their headquarters within the area. “They have a great deal of cybersecurity work that goes on within their facility here in the City of Hoover as well,” Knighton said.
All of this is growing – what Knighton calls – a tech ecosystem, a combination of public and private sector entities contributing to cybersecurity advances.
“We have at least 25 cyber-related institutions or businesses that are involved in that activity on a day-to-day basis,” Knighton said.
Early in 2023, the city hosted its first Hoover Innovation Summit centered around cybersecurity and a focus on changing times. The city created what it hopes to be an annual event to bring together businesses, public officials, and technology gurus to network and discuss emerging issues.
The theme – Cybersecurity in a Changing World
“The event’s theme was to highlight companies and organizations within the city that are involved in cybersecurity,” Knighton said. “It also provided an opportunity for NCFI to talk about what they are doing in the city as well.” The Summit saw more than 100 attendees from both the public and private sectors, as well as students in cybersecurity.
What’s next for Hoover? Knighton said the future is bright for cybersecurity. “You are going to continue to see growth in the public and private sector,” Knighton said.
ThreatAdvice, headquartered in Hoover, is also taking cybersecurity education on the road. In April, the company hosted a cybersecurity conference in Atlanta – an all-day event that focused on keeping organizations safe from cyberattacks.
As more students flock to NCFI for specialized cybersecurity training and homegrown companies continue to spread their influence outside of Alabama, Hoover will continue to establish itself as the source of cybersecurity innovation.