Frances Townsend: Maintaining America’s Tech Edge Is Imperative to National Security
Frances “Fran” Townsend is a lawyer and business executive who served as Homeland Security Advisor during George W. Bush’s term as president of the United States. She previously served on the Director of National Intelligence’s Senior Advisory Group, and currently is the executive vice president for corporate affairs of the video game conglomerate Activision Blizzard. Her experience in both security and technology makes her acutely aware of the vital role tech companies play with regard to cybersecurity.
When it comes to keeping the United States safe, Townsend says, “applying additional pressure and sanctions to North Koreans is extremely important because they’re at a very dangerous point.” She points out there’s been increased activity by the Taliban and terrorists in global hotspots such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia.
“I think much of this instability in the Arab Gulf and the Middle East in particular stems from Iran,” Frances Townsend suggests. “Certainly, the Iranian threat has gained the attention of national security policymakers, whether it is their undermining of the elected government in Lebanon, their support of the Houthi tribes in Yemen, their support of the Assad regime in Syria, or undermining the government in Bahrain.”
According to Townsend, while America’s attention has been primarily focused on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, overseas foes have been increasing cyber-aggression by utilizing high-tech ransomware attacks. “Incidents such as the Colonial Pipeline attack and the 2020 string of ransomware attacks targeting major United States hospitals already understaffed by the pandemic reflects the ever-present need to defend against these attacks,” explains Townsend. “In July 2021, 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.”
Those communities in Texas were seriously affected by the sophisticated cyberattack for several days which is why the world needs to be vigilant.Townsend says “these attacks served as a wake-up call that cyber aggression is on the rise and no entity, big or small, is free from the threat of attack.”
Fran Townsend: Without Protections In Place, We Become Susceptible to Cyberwarfare
According to AtlasVPN, in 2021, six criminal organizations were responsible for cyberattacks in the United States that managed to steal more than $45 million worth of ransomware money. “And an analysis from cybersecurity company eSentire shows 292 organizations were hit just between January 1 and April 20 of that year,” adds Townsend. She warns that without protections in place to safeguard those systems, the United States our nation will become much more susceptible to cyberwarfare.
“The rise in cyber aggression against United States companies and state and federal entities threatens the reliability of critical infrastructure and economic systems,” says Frances F. Townsend. “There is no question that our economic and national security are inextricably linked.”
The Importance of the Private Sector
“The private sector has played an integral role in combating emerging threats and protecting our national security,” says Townsend. “America’s ability to innovate and maintain our global technological edge will be crucial in the fight against rising cyber hostilities from foreign adversaries.”
Frances Townsend on the Texas Tech Connection
Texas is at the forefront of the nation’s growth and innovation due to a booming tech sector. However, the Lone Star State ranks sixth in the U.S.’ cyber states thanks to 17% of the workforce being in a tech field, according to a CompTIA report.
“There are nearly 45,000 technology business establishments in Texas, employing more than 1 million residents,” notes Fran Townsend. “Tech has not only buoyed Texas’ economy during the pandemic, but it has also contributed to efforts to strengthen America’s national security and international competitiveness. The security of our nation relies heavily on Texas’ ability to maintain a robust and flourishing technology industry.”
Texas is also home to many defense-focused companies that bolster important projects in conjunction with the United States Army. The state has adopted measures to boost cybersecurity protocols to help stop future malicious cyberattacks. “Texas is a leader in combating foreign adversaries who attempt to undermine America’s edge as a global leader,” says Townsend. “This position is important now more than ever as techno-autocracies ramp up their cyber-aggression via malicious hacking and ransomware attacks.”
Townsend advises that “our elected leaders must be wary of the unintended consequences that may result from anti-competition policies being debated in Washington, D.C., that could weaken America’s technological and economic edge, put Texas jobs in jeopardy, and leave us vulnerable to harmful cyber-warfare.”
Fran Townsend: Lessons Learned in Homeland Security
As the Homeland Security Advisor in George W. Bush’s White House, Townsend says, “The primary thing I did every day was looking at the threat information.” She explains she did that from “an office that is literally equal in steps and distance to the White House situation room or up the back stairs to the Oval Office.” Those are the two places Townsend spent most of her time during that demanding stage of her career. “The president made it very clear [that] our primary responsibility was to stop the next attack. And so, what you want to be certain of is, you know what the current intelligence and developments are, and we’re taking every action possible to prevent the next attack,” says Townsend. That is why her thoughts and advice on how technology can either help or hurt the U.S. are worth noting.