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Next big thing: protecting an earlier one

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MELANIE STETSON FREEMAN/STAFF

(Read caption) A WORKER STAYS FOCUSED AT ZEROFOX, A CYBERSECURITY START-UP IN BALTIMORE.

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Plastics, semiconductors, biotech, nanotech – there’s always a next big thing about to revolutionize the world. Sometimes the next big thing is just wishful thinking. Sometimes it is a scam aimed at lightening the wallets of speculators. (Ask Charles Ponzi about postal reply coupons.) 

Sometimes, though, the opportunity is real. Orlando was a sleepy Florida town before The Mouse moved in. The land around Palo Alto, Calif., was all orchards and farms before Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Google, and Facebook changed it and the world.

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As you’ll see in Sara Sorcher’s cover story (click here), the next big thing now appears to be cybersecurity. So much of commerce, industry, finance, defense, and personal life rely on the Internet – and so much of the Internet is vulnerable to attacks by organized crime, spy agencies, rogue programmers, and hacktivists – that safeguarding it is a $67 billion industry on its way to more than double that over the next four years.

 
Sara, who is part of the Monitor’s Passcode cybersecurity team (see CSMonitor.com/World/Passcode), takes you on a nationwide tour of cities and regions that hope to be to network protection what Detroit was to automobiles and Silicon Valley has been to computers.

That sort of brainpower hive – people and enterprises pursuing similar goals – is famous for boosting innovation. Put engineers, entrepreneurs, and financiers together over foosball or lattes or backyard barbecues and new ideas and businesses are almost inevitable. That technique worked in the cyberworld and probably will in the cybersecurity world, although there are a couple of other factors to consider this time. 

For one thing, security, by definition, is not a chatty, open-sourced profession. Customers hoping to shield Wall Street, the power grid, or the US military’s drone fleet from hackers are several degrees more serious than app developers dreaming up the next Angry Birds or Candy Crush. Violating a non-disclosure agreement in Cyberville USA almost certainly would involve more than a financial penalty. 

Another problem: Massing the best and brightest programmers in one locale might not be strategically wise. A cyber Pearl Harbor would be a national security nightmare. That doesn’t mean that one or two of the cities and regions vying for the business won’t predominate. But prudence might dictate dispersion.

The network that is being protected, after all, was originally designed not to amuse or entertain but to connect far-flung knowledge workers.
Which is why cybersecurity isn’t really revolutionary. Although it will no doubt produce spinoffs and lead to new inventions, cybersecurity is more about safeguarding the billions of activities that the Internet has facilitated than changing the world. 

The Internet, which has been the next big thing for several decades now, is what is worth protecting.