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UA Little Rock Partnership with Forge Institute, ASBTDC Will Help Small Businesses Combat Cybersecurity Threats

UA Little Rock students work in the Cyber Arena.
UA Little Rock students work in the Cyber Arena.

UA Little Rock cybersecurity faculty members and students are partnering with the Forge Institute and the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, based at UA Little Rock, on a project that will help small businesses fight cybersecurity threats.

The project is funded by a nearly $1 million grant the Forge Institute received from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The funding will enable Forge Institute to expand its services from the Arkansas Cyber Defense Center (ACDC) to assist Arkansas small businesses to better combat cybersecurity threats, expand training for cybersecurity services, and address other operational cybersecurity challenges.

“Our team is excited to receive support from the SBA, which will allow us to further develop capabilities in the Arkansas Cyber Defense Center to engage, train, and assess cybersecurity risks for Arkansas’ small businesses,” said Scott Anderson, executive director of Forge Institute. “Developing cyber resiliency within our small business community is vital to supporting and growing the economic lifeblood of our state.”

A key component of the ACDC is to provide work-based learning experiences for Arkansas students. Up to eight interns will be hired for a paid internship from UA Little Rock, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

“The UA Little Rock Cybersecurity Lab is excited to continue our years’ long collaboration with Forge Institute and support the ACDC by providing students for paid internships to assist in the delivery of cybersecurity awareness training and outreach services,” said Dr. Philip Huff, assistant professor of cybersecurity at UA Little Rock. “As a research partner with the Consortium for Cyber Innovation, it’s exciting to see opportunities for our students to immediately apply their knowledge for the benefit of Arkansas.”

The ACDC will also conduct 260 assessments for at least 130 small businesses during the course of the first year. Joint awareness campaigns and training will be conducted by Forge Institute in collaboration with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center and academic members of the Consortium for Cyber Innovation, which include UA Little Rock and UAPB.

“We will work with Forge Institute and the Arkansas Cyber Defense Center on an awareness campaign and specialized training for our state’s small business community,” said Laura Fine, ASBTDC state director. “As online sales and digital activity continue to grow, helping businesses maximize their cybersecurity is a priority for us. ASBTDC is proud to be part of this collaborative effort to protect Arkansas businesses from cyber threats.”

The pilot is expected to benefit Arkansas small businesses, many of which are vendors to critical infrastructure and therefore targets of organized crime and nation-state adversaries.

“Cybersecurity preparedness is a critical issue for our small businesses,” SBA Arkansas District Director Edward Haddock said. “Each attack can cost a small business thousands in downtime, lost business opportunities and the professional services small businesses hire to mitigate the security breach.”

Huff said the first UA Little Rock students will begin working as interns with the Forge Institute in October.

“This is an excellent workforce opportunity for our students that will allow them to put their cybersecurity education to work while helping small businesses in the state protect themselves from cybersecurity threats,” Huff said. “This collaboration puts our students on the frontlines in cybersecurity to develop innovations that will improve cybersecurity for small businesses. This is the start of a valuable service that will help Arkansas’s small businesses for many years to come.”