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DHS Sprinting in Support of National Cybersecurity

The agency’s cyber sprints are accelerating collaboration and cybersecurity across various sectors.

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When we think about the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber leadership and activities, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) often comes to mind first. But as DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas noted, all of the department’s agencies are contributing to the national effort to secure the country’s cyber posture.

Cybersecurity has risen as one of the nation’s top challenges, Mayorkas said during the Billington Cybersecurity Summit Wednesday. With the White House’s declaration of cybersecurity as a top priority, DHS has been engaged in an all-of-agency initiative to drive national cybersecurity forward.

While DHS is strengthening CISA to serve as the “nation’s cybersecurity quarterback,” Mayorkas stressed that the agency’s components are also taking part in uplifting the country’s cybersecurity through a series of 60-day sprints.

“To move from vision to action, DHS has undertaken a series of 60-day sprints,” Mayorkas said. “The idea is straight forward. Let’s turbocharge our leadership on cybersecurity by issuing a series of challenges to ourselves and commit to hard deadlines for results.”

DHS launched its first sprint in March with the focus of combating ransomware, both within the U.S. and internationally. This effort formed an all-of-government effort to fight ransomware and led DHS to develop — the first website that pools federal resources to help individuals and organizations mitigate risks against ransomware.

DHS’ second sprint looked to bolster recruitment, retainment and development of the cybersecurity workforce.

“This resulted in the largest and most successful cybersecurity hiring effort in our department’s history and paved the way for the near-term launch of the DHS Cybersecurity Service on Nov. 15, which will increase access to public service careers in cybersecurity,” Mayorkas said.

The third sprint focused on increasing cybersecurity of national control systems, such as pipelines, electrical grids and other critical infrastructure. Mayorkas said that DHS and the White House worked in this sprint to collaborate with the private sector to increase adoption of systems guidance and services to protect critical infrastructure across the country.

After the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, DHS’s Transportation and Security Administration issued two security directives designed to strengthen national pipeline security. These directives required pipeline owners and operators to designate cybersecurity coordinators to report incidents to CISA within 12 hours, implement basic cyber hygiene practices, develop cyberattack contingency plans and conduct vulnerability testing to their systems.

DHS is currently in its fourth sprint, which looks to increase cybersecurity across the transportation sector. Launched in September, the sprint encompasses security of air, land and sea transportation systems.

“The maritime transportation system is comprised of hundreds of ports and shipyards, 25,000 miles of waterways and 20,000 bridges, pipelines and undersea cables,” Mayorkas said of maritime transportation. “Roughly a quarter of America’s GDP flows through it. That amounts to approximately $5.4 trillion annually. This network is the connective tissue between consumers, manufacturers, farmers and domestic and international markets, and the Coast Guard is responsible for protecting it against cyber threats.”

Mayorkas added that the Coast Guard released a new cyber strategic outlook this summer for the first time since 2015, and the agency is not integrating cyber risk management into vessel and facilities safety and security planning and operations.

“The Coast Guard is also deploying cybersecurity specialists to major U.S. ports to oversee assessments, evaluate plans and lead preparedness and response activities,” Mayorkas said. “Starting this month, more than 2,300 maritime entities must submit a dedicated cyber plan to the Coast Guard, address any cybersecurity vulnerabilities identified in their facility assessments and outline the owner or operators’ cybersecurity mitigation measures.”

DHS is requiring maritime facilities to report any cyber incidents, and the Coast Guard and CISA will collaborate to respond to incident reports, assess and mitigate risks to critical infrastructure and provide oversight and technical support to affected organizations.

TSA is not only assisting in critical infrastructure security but transportation security as well. The agency is more specifically working in this spring to designate a new security director to cover higher risk railroad and rail transit entities and require them to identify a cybersecurity point person, report incidents to CISA and form contingency and recovery plans in the case of a cyber incident.

Currently, TSA is also initiating a rulemaking process to develop longer-term plans to increase cybersecurity and resilience across the transportation sector.

“To maximize industry input and inform this rulemaking process, TSA will issue an information circular recommending the completion of a cybersecurity self-assessment,” Mayorkas said. “Mirroring these steps, TSA has begun updating its aviation security program. By the close of this sprint, TSA will require critical U.S. airport operators, passenger aircraft operators and all cargo aircraft operators to designate a cybersecurity coordinator and report cyber incidents to CISA.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also participating in the transportation sprint through its grants program. Mayorkas explained that DHS increased the required minimum spent on cybersecurity through FEMA’s grants awards to 7.5% percent, and FEMA is working alongside TSA, the Coast Guard and CISA in a working group to also ensure more robust transportation-related cybersecurity.

Amid the different steps that DHS and its components are taking to bolster cybersecurity, Mayorkas emphasized that partnerships will fuel the future of national cybersecurity.

“We can’t do this alone,” Mayorkas said. “The Department of Homeland Security is fundamentally a department of partnerships. Our ability to execute our critical mission relies on the strength of our partnerships. We need your expertise, perspective and strategic guidance. We need your partnership. Please consider partnering with us, collaborating with us or joining our team for a meaningful and challenging and fulfilling career in public service.”

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