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Midlands Voices: Public-private cyber partnership can boost Nebraska's economy, safety

Midlands Voices: Public-private cyber partnership can boost Nebraska's economy, safety

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The rapid emergence and diffusion of disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and Big Data have dramatically transformed how the world operates. It has never been easier to collaborate, innovate and share information. But it has also never been easier to disrupt and exploit vulnerabilities across governments, economies and industries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare our dependence on digital technologies and cyberspace for every facet of life. As cyberattacks continue to increase in frequency, magnitude and sophistication, we remain dangerously unprepared to defend our networks, data and digital ecosystems.

A nonpartisan U.S. Cyberspace Solarium Commission, co-established by Nebraska’s U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, warned in March that we are at risk, not only from a catastrophic cyberattack but from millions of daily intrusions disrupting everything from financial transactions to the inner workings of our electoral system.”

The increasingly persistent cyber-enabled campaigns against the U.S. target both government institutions and corporations to steal technology, exfiltrate sensitive information, influence the U.S. population and interrupt American democratic processes undermining our prosperity, security and stability.

Yet, for the first time, we have been witnessing an onslaught of cyberattacks on schools, hospitals, small businesses, municipalities and citizens. Since 2019, ransomware infections designed to deny access to a computer system or data until a ransom is paid have become the most widespread, disruptive and financially damaging form of cyberattack, growing over 300% in just one year and costing the U.S. $7.5 billion. The attackers increasingly target American cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans, and 22 towns in Texas in a sustained attack disrupting critical services.

The cybersecurity implications for Nebraska are real and serious. In 2019, Nebraskans reported 1,350 cybercrime incidents to the FBI. In recent years, public targets of cyberattacks include the City of Beatrice Police, Fire and Rescue; City of Wayne; City of Gothenburg; NRC Health; Great Plains Health; CHI Health Lakeside Hospital; Pawnee County Memorial Hospital; Boys Town National Research Hospital; and Douglas County.

Every enterprise in Nebraska faces shared cyber risks flowing from the malicious exploitation of digital vulnerabilities and thus have a major stake in ensuring the security of its networks, transactions, intellectual property and sensitive data. But Cornhusker enterprises also share a vital interest to enhance cyber resilience and prepare Nebraska to thrive in the digital age.

Cybersecurity is a team sport — threats, risks and costs are simply too vast for any organization to tackle alone. Nebraska has a unique opportunity now to bring together business, government and academic leaders to mobilize resources to develop a more resilient and prosperous digital ecosystem.

A strategic public-private partnership to make our state cyber-ready will promote cybersecurity best practices, enable sharing of threat information and secure critical infrastructure and essential services. Moreover, it will help grow Nebraska through game-changing investments in tech education, business and workforce development as well as innovation to stay ahead of cyber threats and keep pace with rapid technology evolution.

The Bloomberg 2020 U.S. State Innovation index ranks Nebraska at 38th place in research and development, productivity, technology clusters, STEM, and residents with degrees in science and engineering and patent activity. It underscores the geographical inequality in innovation ecosystem, compounded with the broadband connectivity and access gap intensified by COVID-19 where states in rural America are falling behind. Nebraska is rated 48th by BroadbandNow for worst internet coverage, speed and price access. Blueprint Nebraska, a strategic plan to propel the state to economic success, has made achieving a quantum leap in digital connectivity a high priority.

Bridging the digital divide will also require boosting digital literacy and skills and enabling the next generation of Nebraskans to become better prepared for jobs in technology to serve our local communities, state and the nation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a historic shift to remote work and digital access to services across every domain that will continue well into recovery. According to Microsoft, the digitization expedited by “The Great Lockdown” will spur creation of 13 million new technology jobs in the U.S. by 2025, including in data analysis, machine learning, Artificial Intelligence, and cybersecurity.

Crises often catalyze reinvention. Reigniting Nebraska’s innovation engine will unlock entrepreneurial potential driving economic growth and job creation. Ultimately, building a strategic public-private partnership to invest in our ability to be resilient and innovative in the face of fast-moving threats and technological advancement will empower Nebraska for the uncertain future.

Aaron T. Dowd is an entrepreneur who served as a senior aide to Chuck Hagel, former secretary of defense and U.S. senator from Nebraska. Dowd also advised the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Anna M. Dowd is a former NATO official. She served as the principal officer for strategic partnerships and head of industry relations in charge of the NATO-Industry Cyber Partnership, an initiative of the alliance heads of state and government to strengthen collaboration with the private sector on cybersecurity. She also served at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris, European Defense Agency and Polish Ministry of Defense.

The Dowds reside in Omaha.

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