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House committee considers cybersecurity grants for Missouri businesses

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A unique new proposal to offer grants to Missouri businesses of all sizes to shore up their cybersecurity is making its way through the legislature.

House Bill 2436 calls for $10 million in grants to be invested in protecting Missouri employers from cyberattacks. The legislation would ensure companies of all sizes can participate by dividing the funding between small, medium and large-sized businesses.

“As we all know, cybersecurity attacks happen all the time,” bill sponsor Rep. Dan Houx (R-Warrensburg) said at the bill’s committee hearing. “You read it in the news — about ransom on different businesses — and it can range anywhere from $25,000 to several millions of dollars.”

The legislation is supported by the Missouri Chamber’s Missouri Technology Alliance, a broad coalition of technology and innovation stakeholders. Nearly 90 percent of Missouri businesses today are concerned about cybersecurity, according to a recent survey by the Missouri Chamber.

“We’re three years past the time where it needs to be serious,” warned Cybersecurity Solutions Principal Ryan Newlon. Newlon previously served in the Missouri National Guard as a cybersecurity expert. “We need to have the teeth behind [our cybersecurity] and we need to take it seriously because of the situation that we have. Our cyber posture as a nation needs to improve. Missouri needs to improve.”

Cybercriminals’ attempts are only growing more sophisticated, and many Missouri employers don’t even know where to start to protect their businesses. This grant program to help employers enhance their security measures would be the first of its kind in the nation.

David Pearce, Executive Director for Governmental Relations at the University of Central Missouri, testified that cybersecurity is a growing interest for Missouri students training to enter the workforce.

“This is a very, very fast-growing area in education and higher education. UCM as well as other universities in the state, they are getting into cybersecurity for their students and at our campus, it’s one of the fastest growing majors that we have,” Pearce said.

Ross Lien testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Missouri Chamber and the Missouri Technology Alliance.

“About 25 percent [of employers polled] said it’s their number one concern about their business right now. So this is something that we can do right now to help the business community,” said Lien.

BJC Health Care, a member of the Missouri Technology Alliance, also voiced support.

“BJC has a robust cybersecurity program as you can imagine, as a large health care institution — but that certainly doesn’t mean we don’t understand the struggles that small businesses are facing trying to keep up with the ever-growing and changing nature of the threats,” BJC representative Jessica Petrie said.

House Bill 2436’s counterpart in the Senate is Senate Bill 674 by Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-Springfield). This bill was approved by a Senate committee in January and now awaits floor debate. Watch highlights from that hearing.

For more information on this issue, contact Kara Corches, Missouri Chamber Vice President of Governmental Affairs, at kcorches@mochamber.com or (573) 634-3511.

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