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Republican Walker Stapleton, who is running for Colorado governor, speaks Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, at the Cyber Symposium at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

COLORADO SPRINGS — Both major candidates for Colorado governor on Monday pledged to step up the state’s efforts to train more cybersecurity professionals and to keep a consumer’s private data safe from malicious attackers.

But Republican Walker Stapleton and Democrat Jared Polis, who each gave a short presentation to an attentive audience of security professionals at the Cyber Symposium at The Broadmoor, offered few specifics on how they would beef up cybersecurity.

“We were very impressed that they both came to this event,” said Hannah Parsons, interim chief of staff at the National Cybersecurity Center. “Most candidates for any office right now, they’re not campaigning on cybersecurity. It’s not the platform issue, but, as (National Cybersecurity Center CEO Vance Brown) said, it’s probably the No. 1 threat against humanity.”

Polis brought the threat down to earth early in his presentation by sharing that he, like many Americans, had to call his credit-card company to get charges made to his card reversed after it had been stolen. But with the major breaches at companies such as Facebook or Equifax, local government must do more to protect its citizens.

“If we want Colorado to be a place where people want to do business,” Polis said, “we need to have a place where people feel their private information will be handled safely and securely and that we’re one of the leaders in the area.”

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, the Democratic candidate for Colorado governor, speaks Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, at the Cyber Symposium at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Springs, where many military and government operations take place, has a particularly heavy security workforce. The city has more than 200 cybersecurity companies, and the industry’s economic impact nears $1 billion annually, according to the local chamber of commerce.   

The city is also home to the National Cybersecurity Center, which got its start in 2016 when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation to fund the organization. Its goal is to help public and private organizations curb cyberattacks and, if hit, recover from them.

Both candidates said they support growing the center.

Republican Walker Stapleton, who is running for Colorado governor, speaks Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, at the Cyber Symposium at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

“As governor,” Stapleton said, “I plan to continue this great momentum that Gov. Hickenlooper has started with the cybersecurity space and take the partnership to the next level.”

Stapleton, currently the state treasurer, and Polis, who spent the past decade serving as one of the state’s U.S. representatives, also support investing in training to fill what Polis estimates to be the 5,000 job openings in cybersecurity in the state.

“I support the goal to produce 5,000 new female and minority cybersecurity professionals who live and work in Colorado by 2021,” Polis said.

For Stapleton, supporting a workforce to fill the cybersecurity jobs in the state means “having more attainable housing right down here in Colorado Springs,” he said. “We have to have the training programs and we have to understand the needs of this industry specifically, which is changing as fast as technology is changing.”

Various reports put the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs at 3.5 million by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, a research firm. That’s up from 2014’s worker-shortage estimate of 1 million.

Polis pointed to a few areas on which he planned to concentrate, including how blockchain technology could help bolster the security of the state’s election process. He also touched on the recent update to the state’s consumer-protection law that forces companies with consumer data to notify users within 30 days of a breach — one of the strictest notification laws in the nation.

MORE: What we learned from the first televised Colorado governor’s race debate between Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton

“As governor, I’ll coordinate with the secretary of state and lawmakers to make sure we maintain the integrity of our election system,” Polis said, pointing to his blockchain policy. “I’ll work with the Colorado attorney general to help businesses of all sizes comply with the Colorado privacy and cybersecurity law, removing unnecessary, burdensome red tape.”

Polis also noted something he doesn’t support: cybersurveillance by the government.

“What you’ll never hear me do is confuse cybersurveillance with cybersecurity,” he said. “Unlike some of my colleagues in Congress, I’ve never embraced, in fact, (I’ve) opposed allowing the government to vacuum up more and more of our private information somehow as a proposed solution to the cybersecurity challenges we face.”

Each candidate had just a few minutes to speak, and questions weren’t taken.

The Cyber Symposium at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

But Parsons felt that Monday’s symposium was a good start because her organization aims to continue working alongside the next governor to partner with private companies and local municipalities. She hopes for more concrete examples in the future.

“We’ve made some progress in some legislation and state agencies expanding their cybersecurity-training awareness, but we’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to local municipal offices and protecting critical infrastructure, which now includes elections,” she said.

Parsons added: “We haven’t seen enough attention paid at the elected-leader level across the board. Are we getting there? Yes. But it will be interesting to see how the candidates further develop their cybersecurity plans.”

Rising Sun

Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...