Weekly Columns

In the 21st century, most of the systems and operations we depend on for everything from personal financial activity to the community-wide distribution of information and resources is built within and around the internet.

The connectedness, convenience and efficiency it offers have improved how we live and work, but it does not come free of risk.

Last month, President Biden warned that our country faces a heightened threat of malicious cyber-attacks from Russia. Our intelligence services attribute that to its displeasure with U.S. support of Ukraine as it withstands the brutal, unjustified invasion waged by Russian President Vladimir Putin. This reality only underscores the need to harden our domestic cybersecurity and resilience.

Even before the announcement from the White House, I asked the Biden administration to provide all necessary resources and work with private, state and local institutions to prevent our critical infrastructure and systems from being compromised through nefarious activity in response to the severe economic sanctions America has imposed on the Russian Federation. 

From banks to hospitals, liquified natural gas terminals, bridges and roads, and more, our networks and institutions need to be informed and supported by the federal government in order to be prepared to absorb and rebuff offensive cyber operations by foreign adversaries. That was obvious last year as we saw bad actors target a major pipeline, disrupt service at a key meat supplier and even infiltrate a water treatment facility.

I’ve pushed the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to pull out all the stops and be proactive in allocating the resources and capabilities to defend against these attempts to cripple our vital systems and disrupt our lives. 

Thankfully, our state hasn’t been waiting around for disaster to strike. We’ve been preparing and training our workforce to help protect our information and secure our critical networks.

I’ve been working alongside other leaders to strengthen Arkansas’s role in combating cyberthreats and am pleased with the progress we are making.

Efforts by the Forge Institute and universities like UAPB and UALR are positioning Arkansas as a cyber defense state. We’ve launched the Consortium for Cyber Innovation, a project to develop and align cyber instruction and marshal applied research capabilities throughout the state, creating a cluster of industry and education that will support our cyber readiness.

I’ve also helped secure funding for the University of Arkansas System’s Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) to update its cyberterrorism courses and lead training to help state and local governments prevent cyber-attacks. 

Additionally, just last month Governor Hutchinson announced grant funding for further development of the Cyber Learning Network (CyberLearN) – a regional partnership with seven schools in the University of Arkansas System aimed at averting a skills gap in this sector within The Natural State.

I’m also backing policy solutions like the Cybersecurity Opportunity Act to help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) offer education and training so even more students are prepared to fill jobs vital to protecting our country and the digital domain. Since Arkansas is home to four HBCUs, establishing this pipeline will help our employers find local talent to fill these critical, in-demand positions. 

We can take great pride in how our higher education institutions and private entities are leading the way in this arena.

The importance of private and public partnerships working together to prevent future cyber-attacks is critical. Most of the nation’s essential infrastructure is privately owned, so these relationships are crucial to secure and protect it. The urgency is only increasing as we understand the true global threats we face from adversaries and competitors, as well as private actors who seek to exploit vulnerabilities for financial gain.

I will continue to make this issue a priority and help Arkansas continue to lead in defending and maintaining our cybersecurity.