Senator Boozman’s column: Strengthening Arkansas’ role in cybersecurity
by Senator John Boozman
Robust cybersecurity is increasingly important as cyber threats continue to evolve and target vital services. In recent years we’ve experienced disruptions to pipelines, key food suppliers and water treatment facilities. Here in Arkansas, our hospitals, school districts and county governments have found themselves in the crosshairs of cybercriminals within the last year.
The troubling increase in cyberattacks on institutions and essential services demonstrates the crucial need to invest in capabilities and resources to defend against these risks to our national security so we can stay one step ahead of bad actors.
In a report last year, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found a need to improve the quality of threat information shared between the public and private sectors in order to better help devise a plan for appropriate action to mitigate danger.
That’s why a new initiative at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is so valuable. Just days ago the school announced the launch of the Emerging Threat Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ET-ISAC) to combat growing cyber threats in the energy sector.
More than 80 percent of the nation’s energy infrastructure is privately owned, so enhancing coordination and engagement is vital to our national interests. Too often critical information is not reported and shared widely, which slows down responses to security concerns.
By collaborating with electric utilities and partners in the region we can better protect our energy infrastructure. The ET-ISAC will develop training simulations and information sharing practices among the energy sector to identify threats and communicate across the industry about current risks.
This initiative will be an instrumental part of our national strategy to prevent breaches and attacks that have the potential to disrupt our lives while positioning The Natural State as a leader in cyber defense.
It builds on the existing collaboration in Arkansas to meet our growing need for skilled cybersecurity professionals. In 2021 UA Little Rock joined UA Pine Bluff and the Forge Institute to create the Consortium for Cyber Innovation. This project is developing and aligning cyber instruction and marshaling applied research capabilities throughout the state, creating a cluster of industry and education that will support our cyber readiness.
Unique coursework at the University of Central Arkansas is also generating a pipeline of employees to defend against evolving cyber threats.
Last year the president signed into law the Cybersecurity Opportunity Act, legislation I championed to expand cybersecurity training programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) which will create more opportunities in the cybersecurity workforce at Arkansas HBCUs.
I’m proud to support initiatives that strengthen our state’s role in combating cyber threats and prepare and train our workforce to help protect our information and secure our critical networks. The ET-ISAC will be an instrumental part of the ongoing effort here and nationwide to fortify our digital infrastructure and safeguard sensitive information and networks.
As cyberattacks endure and evolve, we must continue to enhance our ability to quickly respond to threats. I’m proud of the role Arkansas is playing in this critical undertaking and will continue supporting the initiatives and partnerships that are leading the way to a more secure, reliable cyber future.