By Fran Townsend

In the last 16 months, while America’s attention has been largely focused on the ongoing public health crisis, foreign adversaries have ramped up cyber aggression via sophisticated and debilitating ransomware attacks across the country. Incidents such as April’s Colonial Pipeline attack and the 2020 string of ransomware attacks targeting major U.S. hospitals already under siege by the pandemic reflect the ever-present need to defend against these attacks.

Take for example this past July, when nearly two dozen towns across Texas were targeted, including several in North Texas, as part of a massive Russian-linked cyberattack, resulting in city officials and workers blocked from accessing local government computer systems. Texas communities faced disruptions for several days due to the sophisticated attack, the scale of which was unknown until recently. These attacks served as a wake-up call that cyber aggressions are on the rise and no entity, big or small, is free from threat of attack.

In 2021 alone, just six criminal organizations behind a series of U.S. cyberattacks have taken more than $45 million in ransomware money, according to AtlasVPN. And an analysis from cybersecurity company eSentire shows 292 organizations were hit between Jan. 1 and April 30.

Without protections in place to safeguard these systems, we risk becoming even more susceptible to cyberwarfare.

The rise in cyber aggression against U.S. companies and state and federal entities threatens the reliability of critical infrastructure and economic systems. There’s no question that our economic and national security are inextricably linked. The private sector has played an integral role in combating emerging threats and protecting our national security. America’s ability to innovate and maintain our global technological edge will be crucial in the fight against rising cyber hostilities from foreign adversaries.

Home to a booming tech sector, Texas is leading the way in U.S. innovation and growth. Texas now ranks sixth among the top cyber states in America as the tech industry represents 17% of the workforce, according to a report from CompTIA. There are nearly 45,000 technology business establishments in Texas, employing more than 1 million residents.

Tech has not only buoyed Texas’ economy during the pandemic, it has also contributed to efforts to strengthen America’s national security and international competitiveness. In addition to adopting state measures to boost cybersecurity protocols and help prevent future malicious attacks, Texas is home to a number of defense-focused companies supporting crucial projects in collaboration with the U.S. Army.

Texas is a leader in combating foreign adversaries who attempt to undermine America’s edge as a global leader. This position is important now more than ever as techno-autocracies ramp up their cyber aggression via ransomware attacks and malicious hacking. The security of our nation relies heavily on Texas’ ability to maintain a robust and flourishing technology industry.

Our elected leaders must be wary of the unintended consequences that may result from anti-competition policies being debated in Washington that could weaken America’s technological and economic edge, put Texas jobs in jeopardy, and leave us vulnerable to harmful cyberwarfare.

Frances Townsend is the former White House Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush. Townsend serves on the National Security Advisory Board of the American Edge Project. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.