For the past six years, GovConnects and the Howard County Chamber of Commerce have worked with representatives of the various federal tenant agencies housed on Fort Meade to produce an annual Cybersecurity Conference for the business community.

The conference showcases thought leaders of national cybersecurity companies and representatives of the leading federal agencies responsible for securing the new “fourth dimension” of the digital divide, where much of our commerce, private lives, government relations and military defense intersect and share space.

Not Completely Defined

The annual conference attracts representatives from industry, government and leading research and academic representatives who are all wrestling with the vulnerabilities, challenges and potential solutions needed to navigate this challenging new dimension, which looks to be leading to a wild ride.

The good news is that Howard County is part of an active regional cyber community. The annual regional conference seeks to showcase the talent of the county and other regionally-based companies who see opportunity where others see risk.

Some observers have equated the current situation for business owners operating in cyberspace to the old cowboy stories of the Wild, Wild West, where there is no sheriff in town; one could compare it to the “cantina scene” from “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” when Luke Skywalker enters the intergalactic bar.

In other words, you never know who you are going to encounter in this new operating space, what weapons they are carrying or who is paying their tab. Thus, business owners entering the arena must quickly gain an awareness of the new operating environment. No longer a marketplace bound by rivers, highways and state borders, it has become a multimedia global marketplace lacking a defined business culture, with potential benefits and risks as yet not completely defined.

It is the Great Unknown. For some, the potential of the opportunities outweighs their fear of the risks. For others, the immediate challenge becomes determining the best metrics and tools for assessing and managing potential risk versus tangible benefits. Businesses and government are challenged to quickly embrace cost cutting strategies and outsourcing of data storage and services to improve their bottom line or consider being left behind by competitors.

List and Discuss

Where one businessman sees a threat, another sees an opportunity; and so it goes with the annual cyber conference, which will be held June 22, 2016.

This year’s conference, “Migration to the Cloud: Challenges and Vulnerabilities/ Opportunities and Solutions,” served as a platform for presentations by representatives of the U.S. government, such as the U.S. CyberCommand, the FBI and NSA; and challenged academic thought leaders from regional premier institutions, including Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute (CERT) and the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security. They discussed and debated with nationally recognized cyber specialists from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and regional industry leaders including Leidos, Dell Federal, Akamai and Tenable Network Solutions to consider potential solutions to various issues.

With individual breakout sessions creating more intimate discussion opportunities about such topics as mobile information technology (IT), health IT, FedRAMP and Insider Threat, Tech Talk Challenges presented the opportunity to discuss and offer best practices, as well as one-on-one industry mentoring.

GovConnects and its strategic partners also strive to offer local businesses the annual opportunity to grow their knowledge of how cybersecurity directly impacts their bottom line.

The education is incremental for many, despite the very large presence of Fort Meade and the tenant organizations, which have a primary focus on protecting and maintaining the security of cyberspace.

Issue to Address

The shift to cloud-based business opportunities — for both government customers and the private sector — began only a few years ago, with many promises. While the U.S. is currently recognized as a leader in providing cloud services and products, the country is behind internationally in addressing the issues related to security and privacy of data.

As the migration continues, Americans are beginning as a business community and society to wrestle with the varied mix of challenges and opportunities associated with this shift.

Next year’s conference theme will be “Critical Infrastructure.” As the country’s leadership seeks to strengthen its national policies and defense posture to deflect, mitigate and transfer the threats associated with operating in a cloud environment, industry has opportunities to provide solutions, particularly in that area.

This will be a growth opportunity for the solution providers. Mark your calendar and join the discussion next year, as the issues of critical infrastructure are brought to the regional business community and participants seek to address, on local terms, the challenges and opportunities that cybersecurity provides.

For more information on GovConnects and how to get involved with programs and conferences, visit

Maureen Thomas is executive director of GovConnects, which is a subsidiary of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. She can be contacted at [email protected] and at 410-730-4111, ext. 110.