Weekly Columns

Getting Cyber Smart

Oct 11 2021

Cyberattacks on individuals, businesses and government entities are a growing problem. Cybercriminals are becoming more brazen and their crimes are increasing in size and scale. This year, hackers infiltrated a Florida water treatment facility, forced the temporary closure of a major pipeline and disrupted operations at a major meat supplier. Bad actors are constantly looking for targets and we must implement defenses to safeguard our nation’s interests.  

Robust cybersecurity is increasingly important to protecting the public’s privacy and critical infrastructure. We must ensure we take appropriate steps to prevent and mitigate future attacks. 

In a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing this summer, my colleagues and I examined potential cybersecurity threats facing our nation’s infrastructure and how the federal government can better protect existing vulnerabilities and stay ahead of emerging threats.   

One thing we learned from industry leaders is the lack of awareness about the tools and resources available to identify and reduce cybersecurity attacks on small and medium utility systems. Expanding education about these opportunities can help prevent attacks on critical industries, which is vital because we know our adversaries have these systems in their crosshairs. 

The 2021 annual threat assessment by the U.S. Intelligence Community lays out how intelligence officials are growing more concerned with the threats posed by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. The report noted how Russia “continues to target critical infrastructure” in order to disrupt and create chaos to daily routines. Most recently, we witnessed this disruption and chaos with the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline.  

The troubling increase in cyberattacks on essential services demonstrates the crucial need to invest in capabilities and resources to defend against these risks to our national security.  

That’s why the Emerging Threats Center at the Forge Institute in Little Rock is so valuable. It brings private and public sector organizations together to train individuals on how to best protect and defend critical infrastructure and programs from emerging threats and future cybersecurity attacks. 

By supporting the development and implementation of stronger cybersecurity programs, we can safeguard Arkansas families, small businesses and public entities from attacks and costly responses caused by cyber criminals. I’m working to strengthen Arkansas’s role in this effort. 

I am proud to have secured a mission at the Little Rock Air Force Base to combat cyberthreats. Today, the 223rdCyberspace Operations Squadron assesses state infrastructure cyber risks and develops exercises for the private and public sectors in Arkansas. These exercises build awareness of existing threats and teach cyber protection and response strategy. I support efforts to expand the scope and capabilities of the squadron so we can provide a full spectrum of readiness and resilience against cyber disasters within the state. 

In Arkansas, state leaders have been proactively working to reduce the threat of cyberattacks. In 2019, the state legislature passed a bill to establish the Arkansas Cyber Initiative to promote cooperation among public and private entities in order to strengthen cybersecurity. The recent launch of the Arkansas Cyber Advisory Council will also enhance the state’s ability to manage and identify threats.  

There is an urgency to fortify public and private systems to protect individuals, industries and our economy against these attacks. This Cybersecurity Awareness Month, let’s commit to working together to develop and implement strategies that prevent us from becoming future victims.