April 13, 2021 | Policy Brief

Biden Administration Nominates Key Cyber Personnel

April 13, 2021 | Policy Brief

Biden Administration Nominates Key Cyber Personnel

President Joe Biden on Monday announced the nomination of Chris Inglis as the inaugural national cyber director (NCD), Jen Easterly as the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and Rob Silvers as DHS undersecretary for policy. With these three experienced figures joining the capable Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, the administration should be poised to make significant improvements to the nation’s cyber resilience.

Inglis is currently a commissioner on the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. He previously served as deputy director of the National Security Agency (NSA), where he spent nearly three decades. Easterly is the current head of Morgan Stanley’s fusion center, where she is in charge of cyber defense. She previously served in counterterrorism roles at the NSA and the White House and helped launch U.S. Cyber Command.

Silvers previously served as current DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s senior counselor when Mayorkas was deputy secretary during the Obama administration. Silvers also served as DHS assistant secretary for cybersecurity.

If confirmed by the Senate, this trio will join a cyber-crisis-response effort already in progress. This effort, led by Neuberger, is still assessing the extent of the damage from Russia’s sophisticated espionage operation through SolarWinds revealed last December.

Neuberger is busy on other fronts, too. Last month, the Biden administration tapped her to spearhead Unified Coordination Group (UCG), which will lead the interagency response to China’s breach of Microsoft. The White House noted that for the first time, the UCG includes representatives from the private sector. This is critical because even after Microsoft issued patches, cybercriminals are still attacking thousands of companies by exploiting the vulnerabilities that China exposed.

With an NCD in place and a fully staffed office, the addition of private-sector partners may become the norm. Congress created the NCD position in the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to build more effective public-private collaboration to secure U.S. critical infrastructure; to ensure effective implementation of cyber strategy and policy across more than 100 federal departments and agencies; to lead the planning and coordination in response to malicious cyber activity; and to provide a vehicle for congressional oversight of the overall cybersecurity effort.

Easterly and Silvers, once confirmed, will be responsible for implementing and overseeing a series of 60-day “cyber sprints” to expand the cyber workforce, improve the resilience of industrial control systems, and tackle ransomware through prevention and disruption attacks. These sprints will be accompanied by medium- and long-term efforts to secure the nation’s election infrastructure and critical supply chains. The large increases in funding for CISA in the COVID-19 relief bill and the Biden administration’s 2022 budget request are essential for the department’s ability to deliver results.

The final missing piece in the Biden administration’s cyber leadership is the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for cybersecurity, energy security, and emergency response. On Monday, the Biden administration announced the appointment of a new principal deputy assistant secretary, but the senior leadership position remains vacant, which is a concerning gap given the threats to electrical grid security. The assistant secretary will be a critical partner for Easterly as she strives to improve the cybersecurity of all critical infrastructure.

Skilled personnel and sufficient funding are fundamental to the Biden administration’s ability to increase America’s cybersecurity. The administration has identified the right team. Now comes the hard part: devising and implementing a robust national cyber strategy.

Mark Montgomery is senior director of the Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation (CCTI) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and serves as a senior advisor to the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. Annie Fixler is CCTI’s deputy director. For more analysis from the authors and CCTI, please subscribe HERE. Follow Mark and Annie on Twitter @MarkCMontgomery and @afixler. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CCTI. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.