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At Tampa's Sypris Electronics, training for digital war, aiming for a cyber cluster

The United States does a pretty good job flexing its military and defense muscles in four out of five fields of battle: land, sea, air and space.

Tampa's John Walsh wants to make sure this country can hold its own against anybody in the fifth: cyberspace.

To help make that happen, Walsh, 51 and CEO of Sypris Electronics, last week unveiled plans to create an international "Cyber Range." Walsh hopes it will become the go-to practice battlefield for digital warfare where the military, government agencies and, later, businesses like power companies and major banks running critical infrastructure services can test their defensive — and offensive — firepower against cyber enemies.

"Traditionally, people can go to a gunnery range and practice" with conventional weapons, Walsh says. Why not a cyber range?

If cyber warfare sounds more like an Xbox video game than a rising threat, consider last week's malicious software attack by the so-called "Stuxnet" worm that infected an Iranian nuclear power facility. The worm, experts say, was designed to send nuclear centrifuges wildly out of control.

Now imagine that evil creativity in the hands of terrorists and aimed at U.S. nuclear plants, major banking systems or military targets. Cybersecurity analysts long have warned that U.S. computer systems that run energy, water, nuclear and manufacturing plants are vulnerable to similar attacks.

Enter Tampa-based Sypris Electronics, with 40 years in the cryptography and secure communications business, and its vision for Cyber Range. Walsh anticipates an "international" range where government and business clients can reproduce their computer systems and see if they can deflect attacks by the best global hackers. In turn, clients would devise ways to counterattack.

"We want to simulate the real world and test countermeasures that are affordable and can be placed in existing infrastructure," Walsh says. In an interview, he tosses some early ideas around, like holding regular cyber warfare contests to recruit top systems hackers (and to weed out the wanna-bes).

Cyber warfare worries are not new. Winn Schwartau, a systems consultant who once lived in Seminole and knows the hacker culture all too well, coined the term "electronic Pearl Harbor" — with all its devastating implications — almost 20 years ago in congressional testimony. And digital cyber ranges were not invented by Sypris. The U.S. Department of Defense's DARPA — Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — has been developing a national cyber range with the aid of Northrop Grumman and other defense companies in response to a post 9/11, national cybersecurity initiative begun under former President George W. Bush. Other cyber ranges operate under the military.

But Sypris sees a broader market, global and commercial, with profit potential. The company's even starting to lobby the state to support a center of excellence or industry cluster of companies in Central Florida dedicated to cybersecurity.

"Cybersecurity," says Jeff Gill, CEO of Sypris Solutions in Louisville, Ky., the parent company of Sypris Electronics, "will be a hotbed for growth for years to come as the nation works to adjust to new areas of attack."

Sypris has some practical experience in this rarefied tech world. Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy said it will give Sypris $3.1 million to develop ways to improve the security of Smart Grid electricity meters at residences by using electronic data keys to limit access and strengthen the U.S. electric grid against cyber intrusion.

"In Cyber Range, we might eventually simulate a smart grid and attack it, or invite others to attack it," Walsh says.

In June, the company said it has partnered with Carnegie Mellon's CyLab to pursue research and new ways to protect U.S. government systems and critical national infrastructure.

For Walsh, the threat of cyber attacks escalates right along with the computing capacity of basic technology and expanding bandwidth globally. Cyber attacks that once required supercomputers can now occur with a bunch of laptops strung together in parallel, he says.

"These are threats that were not even considered when key infrastructures were first developed and set in place," Walsh says.

In this world, when the red button gets pushed, all hands fly to their keyboards and prepare for battle.

Contact Robert Trigaux at

Can we grow

a cyber cluster here?

At Tampa's Sypris Electronics, CEO John Walsh sees a day when Central Florida could be home to a center of excellence or industry cluster of firms specializing in cybersecurity. To that end, Walsh is starting to sell the idea to the state, other companies here with similar technology ambitions, area chambers of commerce and the Tampa Bay Technology Forum. It's early, but Walsh figures it's time to stir the pot and try to make something happen.

Walsh rattles off a long list of area companies — from Harris and L-3 Communications to Raytheon — and other players — like CentCom (U.S. Central Command) at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base and Florida's space program — all with vested interests in cybersecurity issues.

Other areas like San Antonio, Texas, or greater Baltimore (where the National Security Agency resides) are also potential cybersecurity clusters.

Sypris is even suggesting brand names for a cyber cluster here, according to a recent white paper the company's sharing on the topic. Possible brands include Cyber-Connect, Florida's Cyber Coast and FACET, short for Founding Alliance for Cyber and Emerging Technologies.

Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce president Bob Rohrlack says it's too early in discussions to know if this will happen. But he has met with Sypris executives on this idea and says it is in the chamber pipeline for further consideration.

Robert Trigaux, Times business columnist

About Sypris Electronics

Headquarters: Tampa, North McKinley


Chief executive officer: John Walsh

What it does: Electronics engineering, manufacturing for defense, avionics, aerospace industries

Employees: 300 in Tampa

Parent company: Sypris

Solutions, Louisville, Ky.

Ticker symbol: SYPR

At Tampa's Sypris Electronics, training for digital war, aiming for a cyber cluster 11/20/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 19, 2010 9:29pm]
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