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DHS to Lead Biden’s Cybersecurity Agenda Across Gov’t Agencies

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will lead the country’s cybersecurity efforts by strengthening ties with the private sector, directing more funding to build out cybersecurity infrastructure, and hiring personnel to enact a whole-of-government approach to defending against hackers, the agency’s newly installed Secretary said.

“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,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. This is what’s on Maryorkas’ immediate menu:

  • Boost the minimum spend on through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant awards.
  • To accelerate improvements in state and local cybersecurity, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) will assess additional resources it needs, including new grant programs, to enable critical security investments.
  • Reinforce CISA’s new ransomware public awareness campaign to encourage public and private sector organizations to take action to mitigate ransomware risk.
  • DHS will also leverage the U.S. Secret Service, through its Cyber Fraud Task Forces, to respond to ransomware incidents and arrest those that engage in this criminal activity.
  • Collaborate with foreign counterparts to strengthen international cybersecurity collaboration.

In remarks he is slated to deliver at the President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition on February 25, Mayorkas will also call for action to diversify the nation’s cybersecurity workforce. His near term itinerary includes participating in events to emphasize how DHS will best support its partners in efforts to improve risk management and cybersecurity. “This week is just the beginning of a series of actions DHS will pursue nationally and internationally to improve cybersecurity at all levels,” he said.

Mayorkas’ initial to-do list drew praise from Rep. John Katko (R-NY), the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “I am encouraged to see DHS Secretary Mayorkas’ vision for the role of the Department in securing and strengthening our nation’s cybersecurity posture,” he said. “Our shared priorities are simple: work with a broad range of partners to ensure that the risk landscape is understood, critical networks are fortified, infrastructure is resilient, and cyber threats are swiftly mitigated and countered.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), who chairs the panel’s cybersecurity subcommittee, also applauded Mayorkas’ stepped up emphasis on 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,” the lawmakers said. “Inaction has proven costly for victims…And response to opportunistic breaches take the time away from defending against more sophisticated attacks.”

In calling cybersecurity threats to state and local governments a “national security issue,” Thompson and Clarke said they will reintroduce the State and Local Cybersecurity Improvement Act, a bipartisan bill to establish a $400 million grant program to provide funds to help lower-level government agencies erect digital barriers to cyber attacks that failed to be signed into law.

Acting CISA executive director Brandon Wales, who former President Trump installed after he fired director Christopher Krebs following the 2020 national election, said the Biden administration is signaling a “commitment to CISA’s mission and the recognition of our role in defending the nation’s critical infrastructure against cyber and physical threats.” President Biden has yet to nominate a new CISA director. Rob Silvers, a former DHS official, is said to be Biden’s pick to fill the post.

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