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OPINION: Alaska's cyber resilience matters to all of us

From Nitin Natarajan

Updated: 33 Some minutes ago Published: 33 Some minutes ago

When you fly into Alaska for the first time, you're immediately struck by the scale of the surroundings – the mountains, expansive glaciers, fjords, wetlands and valleys. What may not be immediately apparent to those who haven't been able to visit this amazing state is that the state resembles an island, separated from the Lower 48, but still relies on the same critical infrastructure systems to sustain the lives of its residents.

This reality inspired the design of the “Secure Our Alaska” conference recently held in Anchorage and organized by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The event brought together people from across the state with one goal in mind: building resilience against external threats that could impact the daily lives of Alaskans and our country.

Think of the water we drink, the electricity that lights our homes, the gasoline we get at the pump, and all the other essential functions that keep our society running smoothly: all of these are products of our critical infrastructure. They are so vital to our country that disabling or destroying them would have a debilitating effect on safety, national economic security, national public health, or security.

Our role at CISA is to work with the owners and operators of this critical infrastructure to help them develop resilience, incorporate it into their preparedness planning – and then implement those plans.

Recently, I was able to visit Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the Chugach Electric Association, and the Don Young Port of Alaska – facilities that are critical not only to Alaskans, but to the entire nation. Back in 1935, Brigadier General Billy Mitchell testified before Congress, “Alaska is the most strategically important place on earth.” Those words are even truer today, especially when it comes to cybersecurity. Alaska is on the front lines of the threat landscape, and these visits to our partners here have reminded me how important it is to build strong relationships with our infrastructure partners.

Alaska's strategic importance cannot be overstated. Its seaports and airports, military presence, and proximity to major shipping routes along the Bering Strait make it vital to both national security and our economy.

Alaska is different from the Lower 48 in many ways. For example, a disruption in service at a port in the Lower 48 means working with private and public partners to find alternative ports that can continue to provide safe transportation. Here in Anchorage and other ports in Alaska, if a port goes down due to a cyberattack, the impact – and recovery options – are significantly more difficult to manage, if at all.

By working closely with our partners at ports and other key facilities in Alaska, we can work together to build the resilience needed to withstand attacks and recover quickly. This can only be achieved if everyone is willing to sit at the table and share information. At the conference in Anchorage, I was impressed by the quality of the collaboration. This collaboration is key to finding new and innovative ways to tackle challenges together.

This month alone, Alaska has had three cyber incidents that CISA responded to in coordination with state and local organizations. We could not have helped if the organizations that were attacked were not willing to work with us. Additionally, last month, CISA helped Alaska organizations identify hundreds of vulnerabilities through our free cyber hygiene scanning. We are grateful for these partnerships and hope to build many more as we work together to build cyber resilience across the state.

In Alaska, CISA has cybersecurity advisors, election security advisors, protective security advisors, and emergency communications experts to assist you. They are here to work with state and local partners, tribal partners, and the private sector to strengthen defenses against cyberattacks.

Overall, our goal at CISA is to continue to strengthen collaboration with our partners to enable a shared understanding of threats and vulnerabilities through information sharing and better preparedness to protect critical infrastructure and information systems. We offer our services to you free of charge. Contact us at CISARegion10@hq.dhs.gov if you need our help. We welcome it.

We know you in Alaska pride yourself on being self-sufficient, but I am encouraged by your willingness to work with us to improve Alaska's cybersecurity footprint and increase the overall security of this state and our nation. CISA stands firmly with our partners in Alaska to protect and safeguard this “island state” from cyberattacks.

Nitin Natarajan serves as Deputy Director of the Federal Agency for Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security.

The views expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a wide range of viewpoints. To submit an article for consideration, email comment(at)adn.comSend posts with less than 200 words to letters@adn.com or Click here to submit via any web browserRead our full guidelines for letters and comments Here.

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