JANE ENGLISH: For better security

While we might not think about cybercrime impacting us here in Arkansas, the threat is real and growing. According to the FBI’s 2021 Internet Crime Report, Americans reported almost 850,000 incidents of cyber-related crime in the U.S. in 2021, including more than 51,000 data breaches. Together, those attacks cost the U.S. over $6.9 billion last year.

Any system that’s connected to the Internet is vulnerable to hacking, including water-treatment plants, electrical grids, school districts, hospitals, manufacturing and even some facets of agriculture. There’s evidence hackers view rural states that lack a robust cybersecurity ecosystem as easy targets. The FBI reports that Arkansas suffered over $15.3 million in losses due to cybercrime in 2021. That’s up from just $4.8 million in 2017.

With new and ever-bolder hacking-related crimes hitting the news every day, the need for workers with the skills to combat these challenges is growing exponentially. According to CyberSeek, a project of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, the U.S. currently has a shortage of around 714,000 cybersecurity workers, including over 4,100 unfilled positions in Arkansas. As an example of what these positions might be worth to Arkansas workers and our economy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the current median income for Information Security Analysts, a cybersecurity specialty in high demand, is $102,600 per year.

Arkansas is innovating to help fill these vitally needed cybersecurity positions. This year, thanks to $1.9 million in large-scale workforce development grants funded by the Arkansas Office of Skills Development, UA Little Rock became the operational hub for a new statewide educational effort called the Cyber Learning Network.

Also known as CyberLearn, the Cyber Learning Network is a collaboration between seven University of Arkansas System schools, led by UA Little Rock alongside UA Pine Bluff, UA Pulaski Technical College, UA Cossatot, UA Hope-Texarkana, UACC Batesville, and UACC Morrilton, with support from the Forge Institute and the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences. Beginning in fall 2022, the program aims to expand and diversify workforce education throughout the state…