Federal cyber agency kicks off collaborative to defend the U.S. against cyberattacks

Federal cyber agency kicks off collaborative to defend the U.S. against cyberattacks
© Greg Nash

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Thursday kicked off a new effort to help defend the U.S. against cyberattacks, which have multiplied in recent months. 

The new Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative (JCDC) will design and implement national cyber defense plans, share insights on cyber defense, help coordinate operations to reduce the impact of cyberattacks and support joint exercises to strengthen cyber defense measures.

Groups participating in the JCDC include both private sector and government groups, such as Amazon Web Services, AT&T, Google Cloud, Microsoft, FireEye Mandiant and Verizon, along with the FBI, the departments of Defense and Justice, the National Security Agency and several others.

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“The JCDC presents an exciting and important opportunity for this agency and our partners – the creation of a unique planning capability to be proactive vice reactive in our collective approach to dealing with the most serious cyber threats to our nation,” CISA Director Jen Easterly said in a statement. 

“The industry partners that have agreed to work side-by-side with CISA and our interagency teammates share the same commitment to defending our country’s national critical functions from cyber intrusions, and the imagination to spark new solutions. With these extraordinarily capable partners, our initial focus will be on efforts to combat ransomware and developing a planning framework to coordinate incidents affecting cloud service providers.”

The JCDC was announced as part of Easterly’s appearance Thursday at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. 

Easterly said during her virtual keynote address at the conference that the idea for the JCDC came out of both the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC), a group created by Congress that includes lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, along with the House and Senate Homeland Security panels.  

She particularly thanked Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinBipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader House panel approves B boost for defense budget Democratic lawmakers urge DHS to let Afghans stay in US MORE (D-R.I.), a member of both the CSC and the House Homeland Security Committee, for his involvement. Langevin on Thursday applauded the establishment of the JCDC and Easterly’s work at CISA since she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the director position last month. 

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“Jen Easterly has only been at CISA for a month, and she’s already making a significant impact,” Langevin said in a statement. “The Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative is exactly the kind of aggressive, forward-leaning thinking we need to combat the ever-growing cyber threats that face our nation. By bringing together planning, threat analysis, and defensive operations activities, the JCDC will continue CISA’s rapid maturation.”

The JCDC effort comes in the wake of multiple major cyberattacks on the government and private companies. 

The SolarWinds hack, discovered in December, allowed Russian government-linked hackers to compromise nine federal agencies and about 100 private sector groups for much of 2020. In addition, vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s Exchange Server announced in March enabled Chinese hackers to potentially breach thousands of companies.

Ransomware attacks have also been an increasing headache, including the attacks in May on the Colonial Pipeline and meat producer JBS USA, which temporarily crippled critical supply chains.

While these threats have underlined vulnerabilities, Easterly emphasized Thursday that CISA would attempt to step up to the plate to address them. 

“The puzzles presented to us by the complex cyber threat environment are not the puzzles that we solve for fun – they are the puzzles that we must solve to protect our country, our democracy and our way of life,” Easterly said during her keynote address. “If we use our collective imagination and we work to build a culture of collaboration for stronger cyber defense – these puzzles can be solved.”