Ben Cardin has been the highlight a lot lately after announcing his intent not to run for another term in the United States Senate. But before backing away from five-plus decades in public life next year, Maryland’s senior senator sought to address a small business and government issue that has been significantly stepped up during its last six-year term — cyber incidents.
“My focus today is going to be on how the government and Small Business Administration can help entrepreneurs, starting businesses and growing businesses, to help us in cybersecurity,” said Sen. Cardin, during an interview with reporters at the Maryland Innovation and Security Institute facility in Columbia on Friday before leading a discussion with small business owners about cyber.
In Western Maryland’s Washington County in 2022, on the Eastern Shore’s Dorchester County in 2020 and the Salisbury Police Department in 2019, cyber issues have ranked local government officials in recent years.
Ransomware, where hackers hold computer systems hostage typically in return for payment, hit Baltimore City’s government in 2019, curtailing access to emails and cutting off water billing for months. In another case, Baltimore County Public Schools were closed for a day after a ransomware attack in 2020.
Cardin, who chairs the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, toured the Columbia facility called “DreamPort” with leadership from the institute and looked to learn how other non-cyber focused entities like small businesses could become more secure.
“My focus is going to be trying to help smaller companies that don’t have the same capacity to protect themselves,” he said.
About a dozen or so local cyber business owners attended the discussion with Cardin as did state Sen. Katie Fry Hester, D-Howard/Montgomery, and Brigadier Gen. Reid Novotny, a former state delegate, who flanked the senator on either side at the table. State officials from the Department of Commerce also were present.
Kimberly Mentzell, the Maryland Department of Commerce director of cybersecurity and aerospace, said during the discussion that cybersecurity is as important to a business’ success as human resources (HR) or accounting.
Cardin touts the Small Business Cyber Training Act. Area businesses weigh in
The retiring senator touted the Small Business Cyber Training Act passed into law last year, which is designed to help small businesses plan for cybersecurity.
To some extent, those efforts to increase cyber awareness are already beginning to bear fruit.
“Small businesses are just coming around to the realization in the last two to three years for the need for those kinds of (cybersecurity) services,” said Bryan Murfree, president of the Salisbury-headquartered company Telewire, in a phone interview before the meeting .
His company of a handful of employees has been working with businesses primarily on the Delmarva Peninsula for 39 years, providing information technology (IT) services, and now cybersecurity.
“Every single IT system that an organization implements needs to take cybersecurity into consideration,” Murfree said, in a May post.
In Howard County, in the interview before the discussion, Cardin noted the “huge cost” of cybersecurity for businesses and governments.
In Washington County, David Nathans, a director with the Hagerstown-based cybersecurity company SOCSoter is looking to keep those costs down for a clientele, primarily in the private sector.
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“We really focus on making sure that full cybersecurity protection services,” said Nathans, of his company, in a phone interview, “are available to small businesses at a price they can afford.”
The company of about 25 employees provides cybersecurity services to small businesses in Hagerstown as well as some local and state governments, and a few international clients.
After touring the DreamPort facility, which hosts over 100 kids and parents for Saturday cyber education programs sponsored by the National Cryptologic Foundation, Cardin said forums like the one in Columbia help people understand risk factors in cyber and minimize them.
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“You have to take steps to protect yourself,” he said.
Dwight A. Weingarten is an investigative reporter, covering the Maryland State House and state issues. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @DwightWeingart2.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Cardin aims to help small businesses get secure in cyberspace