For years Hunter Communications made its name stringing fiber-optic lines throughout Southern Oregon and Northern California, connecting cities, schools and businesses.

More recently, the Central Point firm has turned its attention to securing the data flowing through those lines.

There are two challenges, CEO Richard Ryan said. Users opening malware or ransomware that can contaminate outward through the network and infiltrate other customers' systems, and cloud-based attacks on the entire network.

"We're looking at protecting from both internal and external threats on our network," Ryan said. "We're reaching out to our customers to protect both sides of that relationship and offering security to protect them from outbound (danger), which is just as significant a threat as inbound. We're responsible for a lot of the inbound, the outbound is something we can't always control, and we're looking to do that."

In a 10-year period, Hunter fiber expanded from 200 buildings to 1,577. Its fiber connects with more than 125 cell towers, accommodating 4G upgrades, and future 5G capability for Verizon, AT&T, U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile customers. Since 2010, Hunter network speeds have zoomed from 1 gigabyte to 40 gigabytes, with 100-gigabyte capacity scheduled for 2018.

In gearing up for the initiative, Hunter grew its staff 14 percent to 88 employees in 2017 and anticipates adding 15 to 25 positions during 2018. The firm has been securing its own lines and now offers similar capabilities to its clients.

"We started seeing our customers being hacked and exposed," Business Development Director Carey Cahill said. "The need is obvious; the last thing we want to hear is that we have this great connection, and we got hacked and they stole all our data."

Companies have hardware costs, software costs, personnel costs and information management costs.

"Let's take a look at everything, tell you where vulnerabilities are," Cahill said. "It's what all service providers are getting to, but some are taking a long time to do it."

At a physical security level, Hunter is capable of running a dummy test with a USB key, marked "personnel files."

"We could see who plugs it in," Cahill said. "We would know that employee didn't turn it in to HR, they were accessing all that sensitive financial data, which is easy in today's age to leave data lying around accidentally."

Hunter will continue adding fiber lines in the region, including 200 miles in Northern California.

"There's been an invisible line on the California-Oregon border, and we're bridging that gap," Cahill said.

Installing underground fiber costs $10 to $15 per foot through soil and $40 to $50 per foot through rock. While East Coast firms doing similar work can crank through a thousand feet of soil in a day, 3 percent of that may be a good day's work in this region.

"Southern Oregon has a lot of rocks," said Cahill, adding Northern California's mountainous terrain is no easier. "We've encountered a lot of river rock and sandstone. It's what makes the state beautiful, but it makes it difficult to dig. Sometimes, you can only get 10 to 20 feet a day going through lava rock."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.