“I’m staying in Malaga”: the cybersecurity pioneers who convinced Google to bet on their city
In 2012, Google knocked on the door of engineer Bernardo Quintero. The computer giant wanted to buy his company, VirusTotal. He only put one condition on the deal: stay in Malaga. A year later, Telefónica got in touch with Sergio de los Santos. They also wanted to sign him. The answer was the same: “Yes, but I stay in Malaga and with offices”, recalls the computer scientist. They are both cybersecurity specialists and both achieved their goal. Almost without realizing it, they established the wickers so that the capital of the Costa del Sol began to earn a name within the sector. This Thursday, Google put the icing on the cake by announcing the installation in the city of a center of excellence for cybersecurity with more than 2,500 square meters. “The region has great talent, a vibrant startup ecosystem and incubators and accelerators of companies that have been cultivating the technological fabric for a long time,” they explain from the company, which will invest 530 million euros in five years “to help digital transformation” from Spain.
Quintero is today a renowned engineer and VirusTotal has the largest cybersecurity database in the world. His team analyzes more than two million files and URLs every day and counts Facebook, Apple, Netflix or Samsung among his clients. De los Santos is the head of Innovation and Laboratory at ElevenPaths, a firm associated with Telefónica Tech, where they create technology and carry out extensive research work. The two also have a common past: they coincided in Hispasec, a pioneering cybersecurity firm born in the late 90s also in Malaga. Its 30-person staff is a benchmark in certifying and auditing the IT infrastructures of many people and they work with fifty banks around the world to help them combat the threats that affect them or their clients. The three companies are the three pillars of cybersecurity from Malaga to the world. “We have all been able to say no to going to Madrid, Barcelona or Silicon Valley. And that has had its results ”, highlights the director of Hispasec, Fernando Denis.
His work goes almost unnoticed. They make little media noise for their delicate work or the confidentiality clauses they sign with their clients. However, the sector has been looking towards the Malaga town for years thanks to the path they opened when viruses were barely known and the extent of computer attacks was unknown. The multinational Dekra also chose to settle in the Andalusia Technology Park (PTA), a space where another relevant firm such as Ingenia develops its work. “The fundamental pull comes from Bernardo Quintero and VirusTotal, but Malaga stands out for its important ecosystem at the national level: they are companies of great significance”, highlights Javier López, Vice-Rector for Business, Territory and Digital Transformation at the University of Malaga.
“His arrival will be a turning point”
Until a few months ago, López has directed the master’s degree in computer engineering with a specialty in cybersecurity. It was born precisely from sounding out the needs of technology companies. About twenty students will graduate next June, making up the fourth class. The now vice-rector also directs a research group with around twenty professors and doctoral students that share a building with the VirusTotal offices. “This collaboration between companies and universities is essential for the future,” says Javier López, who considers that Google’s new center of excellence is as if the city were building a taller lighthouse, a light towards which the world and Europe especially will look now with more attention. “His arrival will be a turning point,” says the university specialist. “Without a doubt, it will be very important for Malaga”, highlights Fernando Denis. “And I also believe that it will help attract the gaze of other technological sectors,” adds Sergio de los Santos, who underlines the importance of large companies looking at places beyond large capitals: “It also serves to generate more local talent ”.
Google has announced that the center “will offer training, talks, workshops and mentoring on cybersecurity”, in addition to research and product development, work that they consider “one of the great challenges associated with digital transformation.” It will be located on the Paseo de la Farola, in the old Military Government building that has not been used for decades. It is a property in front of the Muelle Uno shopping complex and near La Malagueta beach. It is expected that the VirusTotal engineering team will also be installed there, although its opening is not planned until 2023, among other aspects because the North American firm will have to adapt it for its use. The project is just one of those announced yesterday within the aforementioned investment of 530 million euros. The amount includes the installation of the first private submarine cable to connect Spain with the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as an agreement with Telefónica to establish the first data center region in the country.
Another city considered as a great reference for cybersecurity not only in Spain but throughout Europe is León, headquarters of the National Institute of Cybersecurity (Incibe). León was a candidate last December to host the headquarters of the European Center for Industrial, Technological and Research Competence in Cybersecurity, although the chosen one was finally Bucharest (Romania).