MARTIN KIDSTON: Montanans see opportunity in troubling technological world

2013-11-24T19:45:00Z 2014-08-07T19:37:19Z MARTIN KIDSTON: Montanans see opportunity in troubling technological world missoulian.com

Citing a 1999 thesis on the subject of unrestricted warfare, David Hamon noted the growing realization among U.S. experts that attacking the nation’s financial institutions and critical infrastructure is fair game in cybercombat.

Like a character in a Tom Clancy novel, Hamon went on to say that you can’t fight today’s threats using yesterday’s strategies. The old-fashioned bank stickups are a thing of the past. Today’s criminals, terrorists, anarchists and enemy states will do it over a computer.

“One of the motivating factors for the Chinese isn’t to tear down our system,” Hamon said. “That would be self-defeating. For them to deter an American attack, or to gain an advantage, they need to prosecute war in different ways than have been done before.”

Hamon, the director of Banyan Analytics at Analytic Services Inc., and a former employee at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency with the Department of Defense, was in Missoula last week, where he met with University of Montana officials and local "big-data" business leaders.

During his visit, Hamon painted a rather doomsday picture of the modern world using stories and threats that few of us ever consider: attacks to bring down Wall Street, sap money from bank accounts, disrupt big business or fry power grids.

It’s a troubling picture of a technical world, but it’s also one that got local business leaders thinking. Like good entrepreneurs, they see opportunity amid the gloom, and a possible new industry for a city that desperately needs one.

“Some of the most successful economies are laser focused down to certain basic things,” said Russ Fletcher of the Montana Associated Technology Roundtable, who noted Missoula’s jump in the world of big data. “This could be something we could set a very unique and powerful focus that could become much more than we realize.”

Last week’s discussion included 11 local business leaders, each with a hand in technology and most involving big data. Missoula has been recognized as a national leader in technology startups, and the businesses are looking to gain momentum here at home.

Joining their push is the University of Montana. In collaboration with IBM, the university became the first in the nation to offer a course on InfoSphere Streams – described as a big-data computer platform from IBM.

The university also is working to create a degree in big-data analytics and to develop opportunities for research graduates. A Cyber Innovation Laboratory is under development as well. Once open, the lab will train students to assess vulnerabilities in information systems while studying digital forensics and data breaches.

Add it all up and combine it with future cyber-related threats and it gets local business leaders talking about opportunities and forging Missoula’s reputation as an industry leader. But first, some suggest, those behind the push must translate the “techno-babble” into words the public can understand and support.

“The citizens of Missoula need to know why we’re asking for these things,” said Alex Philp, founder and president of big-data analysis firm GCS Research. “They need to know why we’re doing these things and why their kids would want to take these classes.”

That part is easy to answer. In order to grow these cutting-edge businesses and land them in Missoula, the city needs what another panel member described as “technology-competent graduate students” who can do the work.

And that’s where UM comes into play. Given the direction of its burgeoning programs, it has a jump on other universities in delivering that future workforce. So with that in mind, why not Missoula, the panelists asked?

To that, Hamon cited one challenge facing the city. “It’s damn hard to get here,” he said. But even so, he suggested that local leaders get started if they’re sincere in making this push a reality.

“The business model has been for companies in the cyber realm to go after government contracts,” Hamon said. “If you wait around for the government to come up with enough money to do that kind of thing, you’ll all be sitting around here in 20 years talking about the same thing.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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(1) Comments

  1. Kate55
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    Kate55 - November 29, 2013 9:56 pm
    What an excellent article. If Missoula has to grow - and it will - tech analysts are people I could be neighbors with. They would be people educated enough to understand that Saturday Market farmers are an important component of the region. Seriously. And of course the proximity to wild lands.

    I would argue that getting here isn't all that hard. It's a rocky ride in winter, but so is every big city in the country these days for one reason or another. The worst that happens is that you get stuck in Salt Lake overnight. During good weather the drive over from Seattle is a long day but it is a straight shot and can be lovely drive through wide open spaces.

    As far as the technobabble goes whoever it is that needs convincing could understand that intensive full time hours at a computer screen is a heavy burnout - physically and mentally. I think that people who never had the great privilege of attending modern graduate school might not get that part. What Missoula lacks is a critical mass of experienced data analysts. People who do that kind of work need a university, bright winters (they're getting better..), views of a beautiful horizon and a pleasant town easy to get around in . But no more bike lanes on main traffic routes please - they are inherently unsafe because too many drivers are dull witted. Us old folks are slow on the rebound ;-)

    Finally, I do worry that big server farms are a target risk of sorts.
    Good coverage, M.
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