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Hurd on the Hill: Cybersecurity Awareness Month

October marks Cybersecurity Awareness Month, an opportunity to recognize the increasing importance of digital security and to share best practices for keeping our digital information safe.

As we continue to become more dependent on computers, automation and digital data storage, every aspect of our lives – from personal banking information to private health records to our credit records – is vulnerable to hacks.

Government, private-sector and individuals have a long way to go to implement basic cyber hygiene, but the first step towards achieving this goal is having an awareness of the problem. While October is devoted to spreading cyber awareness, we have to protect our systems all year long.

One of the things that make major hacks so frustrating is that many could have been prevented with simple cyber hygiene basics like installing regular software updates and utilizing a complex login password (something other than ‘password’ or ‘12345678’).

For individuals, the easiest way to protect your digital information is by having different, strong passwords for each platform – using numbers, letters and special characters. It seems simple, but it is alarming how many folks have their personal information compromised due to failure to implement this easy step.

As a graduate of Texas A&M University in Computer Science, a former cybersecurity entrepreneur and current Chair of the House IT Subcommittee, one of my highest policy priorities in Congress is defending our digital infrastructure.

As a Chairman I’ve been able to explore ways to better protect our digital infrastructure and I continue to work with my colleagues across the aisle to advocate for policy solutions that drive innovation.  One of these solutions is our Smart Government bill called the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act. This major IT Reform package is designed to strengthen information security by accelerating the federal government’s transition to modern technology like cloud computing.

The federal government spends $90 billion a year on purchasing technology and software and 75% of this money is spent on maintaining old, outdated systems. Our government needs to be able to introduce cutting-edge technology into their networks to improve operational efficiency and decrease cost. The MGT Act does just that, and I am proud that it has passed in both the House and the Senate, and is merely days away from becoming law.

My next initiative is championing the development of a Cyber National Guard. The premise behind this idea is relatively simple: If a student wants to pursue a college degree in computer science, the U.S. Government will pay for it, but they have to agree to work for the federal government for a number of years after they graduate.

Once they complete their term of service in the government and have moved onto the private-sector, they will still rotate back into the federal government for the proverbial two weeks per year in a capacity that would closely resemble that of a reservist.

A Cyber National Guard would ensure a pipeline of quality talent into the federal government and maintain our world leadership in the digital realm by ensuring a regular exchange of talent between the public and private sectors.

The security that Americans enjoy today will not last if we don’t continue to discover the latest ground-breaking technology, engineer the most advanced weaponry and protect our cyber infrastructure from attacks.

The United States must continue to invest in cutting-edge research, encourage private-sector technology development and educate future generations of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.  And the importance of cybersecurity cannot be overstated.

Hurd on the Hill: National Disability Awareness Month

Since October is National Disability Awareness Month, it gives us the opportunity to celebrate the contributions made to the fabric of our society by our fellow Americans with disabilities.

It’s important to highlight people like my constituent and Helotes neighbor Stefanie Cowley who through persistence and dogged tenacity has made life better for so many people.

Stefanie’s life changed forever in 2007 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease with unknown causes in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of a person’s nerves. Over the next four years, she struggled to find medical treatment options in the United States and her condition worsened.

Relentlessly exploring all treatments, Stefanie eventually resorted to medical tourism and finally began to see progress with a stem cell treatment that was not yet available in Texas. Knowing it could help others just like her, Stefanie spent hours at the Texas State Legislature advocating for Charlie’s Law to allow stem cell therapy access for patients with certain chronic diseases and terminal illnesses, like MS. Thanks to Stefanie, the bill was signed into law in June this year, allowing thousands of suffering Texans to use their own stem cells as medicine.

As treatments and therapy improved her condition, Stefanie joined groups that fight for MS treatment and research, such as Team Wingman in Helotes, and Patients for Stem Cells, who fight for access to adult stem cell therapy. She not only became a voice for those with MS, but also an inspiration to her community.

For her tireless advocacy, Stefanie was recognized as the 2017 Advocate of the Year by San Antonio Independent Living Services.

Stefanie’s stem cell treatments became so successful that she could put her weight on her legs again and no longer needed a traditional wheelchair. The only problem was that she could not get a standing wheelchair approved by Medicare which would help her continue to build muscle in her legs and dramatically improve her quality of life.

Stefanie was familiar with my office and district staff because we had worked through some Medicare issues for her in the past, and she approached us for some help on this latest issue. We pinpointed why her previous Medicare applications for a standing wheelchair were getting denied by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and made the fix. She got her standing wheelchair within a week, and in the process, made it easier for people in similar situations to be successful.

I first met Stefanie during a town hall meeting in 2016. She educated me on the issue of stem cell treatments and the peculiarities of the existing law on this topic. Witnessing what she has been able to accomplish on behalf of the MS community in such a short period of time is truly inspiring.

Stefanie’s story of perseverance is an example to us all on how to fight for what is right. It’s an honor to have worked alongside her and to be able to call her a friend.

If you know someone like Stefanie who is fighting the federal bureaucracy and needs some help, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 210-921-3130.

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Author – A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Hurd on the Hill: Words Matter

When I was an undercover CIA officer, I served alongside real patriots. I got out of bed each day knowing that my colleagues and I were standing tall against those trying to harm America.

For almost a decade, I was the guy in the back alleys at four o’clock in the morning chasing terrorists in groups like al-Qaeda, and collecting intelligence on threats to our homeland. Unfortunately, that’s not the only job I’ve had where the life of my friends and colleagues were threatened.

On June 14, 2017, an individual attempted to assassinate several of my colleagues, including House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), during a practice for the annual Congressional Baseball Game when Members of Congress play against each other to raise money for charity. Despite the horrific shooting, people from across the political spectrum rebelled against fear and the game went on.

Thousands of people set their political views aside in solidarity for the victims, doubling the previous attendance record and raising over $1.5 million for charity.

The event reminded us that life is precious and that an attack on one of us is an attack on our institutions. My concern is that we will be unable to put aside our labels of Democrat or Republican and continue this spirit of cooperation the further we get from the incident. One of the founding principles of our great nation is free speech – or put alternatively, the ability to disagree. Through civil discourse and competition of ideas, we have created policies that have allowed Americans and America to prosper.

To put this into context, the same week that my friends were shot on the baseball field, the Chinese government was attempting to restrict their citizens from using social media platforms to express dissent. We cannot take our rights for granted. We need to use this right to free speech to show each other and the rest of the world that more unites us than divides us.

I’ve heard repeatedly while crisscrossing the 23rd Congressional District of Texas that people are worried that our country is on the wrong track. I understand why you all feel this way – I often feel the same after seeing the pointless partisan bickering in Congress. If we change the way we behave in the political arena, we can change the outcomes of the political process and create innovative solutions that ensure American prosperity.

Bipartisanship is a real thing, and the only way to ensure that everyone is heard. We can disagree without being disagreeable, and more importantly, we must work together to solve our nation’s major problems. If we want our country to be better, each one of us needs to be better. For us to be better, we need to change how we talk to one another, because words matter.

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A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

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