The Department of Homeland Security is lining up six, 60-day cyber security sprints aimed at strengthening the nation’s cyber security posture with the first three set for launch in the coming months, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Wednesday.
The DHS chief also outlined four medium- to long-term cyber security priorities as part of a two-track effort to bolster cyber security.
In February, Mayorkas said that his vision for how DHS will lead federal civilian government efforts in cyber security include a series of cyber sprints, some focused on ransomware, the workforce, and industrial control systems (ICS). On Wednesday, he said those three sprints will get underway, first with the ransomware effort, followed by workforce initiatives and then later this summer the focus on ICS.
“The series of sprints will mobilize action by elevating existing efforts, removing roadblocks, and launching new initiatives where necessary,” Mayorkas said during a speech hosted by the cyber security firm RSA Security. “Each sprint has a dedicated action plan to drive action within the department and energize our engagement with partners in the private and public sectors, both domestically and internationally.”
Coming shortly, DHS is planning two near-term actions related to ransomware, which is malicious software code that essentially locks up computers and networks until victims pay a ransom to the cyber criminals.
The first step will an awareness campaign that engages with industry and other partners such as insurance companies, Mayorkas said. The second step, which he said is on the response side of the equation, will be to “strengthen our capabilities to disrupt those who launch them and the marketplaces that enable them.”
The workforce sprint will begin in April and will include a focus on the DHS workforce, he said, mentioning plans for an Honors Program initially focused on cyber security and publishing data, and boosting internal efforts, related to a strategy for diversity, equity and inclusion to attract and retain the best talent.
DHS is also partnering with the Girl Scouts of America to explore opportunities to expand interest in cyber security and is expanding an education and training program to reach teachers, Mayorkas said.
The ICS cyber sprint will be aimed at improving the resilience of these systems, Mayorkas said, highlighting a cyber-attack in February of a water treatment plant in Florida that led to lye levels in the water being increased to a dangerous level before an operator discovered the change and fixed the problem.
The Florida incident “was a powerful reminder of the substantial risks we need to address,” he said.
There will be three more sprints in the coming year, focused on protecting transportation systems, election security, and international capacity-building, Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas outlined four medium- to long-term priorities that will have his “sustained” attention, including the “need to cement the resilience of our democratic infrastructures.” Noting that progress has been made in security election infrastructures, Mayorkas said that attacks against the U.S. and its allies show a need to secure “all our democratic institutions, including those outside of the executive branch.”
A second priority will also build on existing work to secure supply chains, he said, mentioning that the $650 million Congress approved in a recent stimulus bill for the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is a “down payment” here. The third priority, which is also related to supply chains and the hack disclosed in December of one company’s software used in thousands of networks, is the need to take on supply chain risks “holistically” and consider zero-trust architectures to improve resiliency, he said.
The U.S. must also become more proactive in addressing cyber threats by attending to “on-the-horizon issues,” Mayorkas said. He mentioned post-quantum encryption algorithms and the need to focus on protecting “the confidentiality of data.”
DHS will develop a plan for how it can help the transition from the development to the adoption of post-quantum encryption, he said, noting that the private sector will drive implementation but the government has a role to “help ensure the transition will occur equitably and that nobody will be left behind.”
Mayorkas praised the work that CISA does, lauding its efforts to protect the 2020 elections and its role as the “nation’s risk adviser.” One of his top priorities will be to “strengthen CISA to execute its mission,” he said, and highlighted new authorities recently given the agency by Congress, including threat hunting on federal civilian networks. He also said that CISA is the “most trusted interlocutor” with the private sector and is best positioned within the government to work with industry.
A new campaign is coming to raise awareness of resources and services CISA can provide, Mayorkas said. The agency will also be expanding a cyber security grant program to support the adoption of these services, he added.
CISA is already expanding its coordination with state governments with State Cybersecurity Coordinators and DHS is developing a proposed Cyber Response and Recovery Fund to help the agency assist state, local, tribal and territorial governments, he said.
Mayorkas also highlighted the need for continuing cyber security missions performed elsewhere in DHS, including the Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Secret Service and Transportation Security Administration.