DHS announces new measures to boost nation’s cybersecurity
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Monday announced a range of steps it will take to bolster the nation’s cybersecurity posture, including increasing funding for key cybersecurity issues.
“Cybersecurity is more important than ever, and we will build on the Department’s excellent work as we transform our whole-of-government approach to tackle the challenge we face as a nation,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
As part of its focus on cybersecurity, DHS announced Monday that Mayorkas would increase cybersecurity spending through Federal Emergency Management Agency grant awards. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) will also evaluate what other resources it needs to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure against cyber threats.
DHS noted that Mayorkas plans to promote CISA’s new ransomware awareness program, rolled out last month. The U.S. Secret Service will use its Cyber Fraud Task Forces to go after hackers involved in ransomware attacks, which have become an increasing headache for hospitals, schools and other critical organizations over the past year.
In addition, Mayorkas will appear at a range of events both later this week and over the upcoming month to highlight cybersecurity issues, including the need to build a diverse workforce, and will engage with international partners on defending the nation against cyber threats.
“This week is just the beginning of a series of actions we will pursue nationally and internationally to improve cybersecurity at all levels,” Mayorkas said Monday.
Mayorkas described cybersecurity as one of his “highest priorities” during his Senate nomination hearing last month and was praised by members of Congress and cyber experts for his understanding of the threats in cyberspace.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), the chair of the panel’s cybersecurity subcommittee, both applauded the efforts by DHS to prioritize cybersecurity.
“For several years, the Federal government has underestimated the cyber threats posed to state and local networks and neglected the federal government’s responsibility to help defend them,” Thompson and Clarke said in a joint statement on Monday. “Inaction has proven costly for victims – from Albany to Atlanta. And response to opportunistic breaches take the time away from defending against more sophisticated attacks.”
The lawmakers described cybersecurity threats to state and local governments as a “national security issue” and noted that they intend to work with Mayorkas in reintroducing the State and Local Cybersecurity Improvement Act.
The bipartisan bill, which failed to be signed into law during the last Congress, would create a $400 million grant program to provide resources for state and local officials to defend against cyberattacks, which have multiplied during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By making strategic investments in raising the baseline cybersecurity posture of state and local governments, we can help avoid opportunistic attacks against them and free up resources to defend against more sophisticated threats,” Thompson and Clarke said.
CISA is the key agency at DHS tasked with defending the nation’s critical infrastructure, including elections, against cyber threats.
The agency has been building up its workforce since former Director Christopher Krebs was fired by former President Trump and multiple other top leaders were forced to step down after CISA’s efforts to push back against disinformation and misinformation around the 2020 election.
Nitin Natarajan was confirmed last week to take over as deputy director of CISA, while the agency announced Monday that Eric Goldstein would take over as executive director for Cybersecurity and David Mussington would take over as executive assistant director for Infrastructure Security.
“CISA is gaining strong advocates and leaders with these appointments, and I welcome them to the team,” CISA Acting Executive Director Brandon Wales said Monday in a statement. “Their appointments this early in the new administration signals a commitment to CISA’s mission and the recognition of our role in defending the nation’s critical infrastructure against cyber and physical threats.”
While President Biden has not yet formally nominated an individual to serve as director, Reuters reported last month that he intends to put forward Rob Silvers, a former Obama administration official, for the position.