State could take the lead in growing cybersecurity field

News of compromised passwords, stolen credit card information, and hackers from places like Russia, China and Syria confirm that cybersecurity is a serious challenge. Cybersecurity poses a critical threat to our businesses, our critical infrastructure, our families and to our entire national security.

Thankfully, our region has experience taking on big challenges.

Thanks to leaders like Scoop Jackson and Norm Dicks, our state has a proud tradition of being at the forefront of national security challenges. And entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos have helped make Washington a center for technological innovation.

Those assets, among others, enable our region to be uniquely positioned to lead the way in the growing cybersecurity arena.

Given the growing salience of cybersecurity problems, there is real economic opportunity for those who step up to lead the way in finding solutions. Why?

For one, this is an industry that is worth more than $200 billion and is only expected to grow in the coming years as American businesses and utilities work to assure their clients that personal data is protected and safe.

Other states have begun aggressively pursuing these opportunities. For example, Maryland and Virginia are encouraging cybersecurity startups through targeted tax incentives. Kansas has established a Cyber Threat Intelligence Program, a partnership between the public and private sectors to share intelligence and information related to cyber security.

So, you may wonder, why not us? In fact, the building blocks to build our cybersecurity cluster are already here. We have several technology companies that are investing here and offering innovative cybersecurity solutions. The University of Washington Tacoma has established a master’s in cybersecurity and leadership so graduates can develop the tools and knowhow to create companies of their own. This program is also part of a growing partnership between UWT and Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Camp Murray – military installations that also have strong cybersecurity assets.

Those collaborations can serve as a foundation for a booming regional cybersecurity industry. With the Washington State National Guard, the Pacific Northwest National Lab, private partners, utility providers, and universities, our state can revolutionize this field.

My oar is in the water on this, too. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I intend to be an advocate for the growth of cybersecurity jobs and companies in this region. In fact, when Congress reconvenes later this month, I’ll be introducing a bill to enable areas like ours to better leverage the Department of Defense’s cyber and IT ranges.

Last week I wrote a letter to the secretaries of commerce and education asking them to provide cybersecurity resources to our nation’s students.

In addition, this week I’ll be taking part in the second annual Cyber Summit hosted by UWT and co-sponsored by the Snohomish County Public Utility District and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Joining me in speaking at this event will be leaders from across our region who are putting together a strategy for leveraging our region’s awesome capability, knowledge, and interest in cybersecurity.

Before coming to Congress I spent a decade working on economic development in Tacoma. A sign that hung on the wall of my office said, “We are competing with everyone, everywhere, every day, forever.” Right now our nation is competing against the rest of the world to develop the tools and resources needed to defend the country against the growing threat of cyber-attacks. And our region is already competing with other parts of our country to develop new innovations, new solutions, and new jobs to overcome these threats.

This is not an opportunity that we should let slip through our fingers. If we can successfully capitalize on our cyber interests and capabilities, we can make progress against these threats and ensure that when companies are looking for the best and the brightest to help them safeguard their customers’ information, they think of us first.