President Biden has formally nominated former NSA official Jen Easterly to become director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). In addition, he reportedly plans to name former NSA deputy director Chris Inglis as the United States' first-ever national cyber director.
Easterly is a former US Army officer with more than 20 years of service in intelligence and cyber operations. She was responsible for standing up the Army's first cyber battalion and was involved in the design and creation of US Cyber Command, according to a White House statement. Easterly has served at the White House as special assistant to the president and senior director of counterterrorism, as well as deputy director for counterterrorism for the NSA.
She also brings experience from the private sector. Since 2017, Easterly has been the head of firm resilience and the Fusion Resilience Center at Morgan Stanley, detecting and defending against threats to the organization. Most recently, she served as cyber policy lead for the Biden-Harris transition team.
Her nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. If confirmed, Easterly will step into a key position that has been vacant since former CISA director Chris Krebs was fired shortly after last year's presidential election. Krebs, who led the agency from 2018 to 2020, had spearheaded efforts to protect US elections and gained bipartisan support to combat disinformation and ensure trust in the electoral process.
Reports indicate Biden also plans to nominate Inglis to fill the newly created role of national cyber director, a job introduced in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act passed in December. The national cyber director will lead the coordination and implementation of national cyber policy and strategy, and facilitate national cyber incident response efforts. As of this writing, the White House has not officially announced Inglis' nomination.
News of Inglis' planned nomination, first reported by The Washington Post, would end months of speculation about who might fill the role. Inglis served at the NSA for 28 years, including nearly eight as deputy director. He is now managing director of Paladin Capital Group and a distinguished visiting professor of cyber studies at the US Naval Academy.
"If confirmed, Chris and Jen will add deep expertise, experience and leadership to our world-class cyber team," said national security advisor Jake Sullivan in a statement to the Post.
The Biden administration has already added former NSA officials to top security roles. Anne Neuberger, former leader of the NSA's Cybersecurity Directorate, was appointed earlier this year to the role of deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology for the National Security Council.
Today's White House announcement also included the nomination of Robert Silvers to be the DHS undersecretary for strategy, policy, and plans. Silvers, who advises companies and boards on cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection, previously served as the Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary for cyber policy under the Obama administration. The role required him to work with the private sector on cyber defense and on government response to cyberattacks.
It's Not All About Technical Skills
While cybersecurity is a technical issue, and these nominees certainly have the skills and experience to fill these roles, what they also bring is appreciation of the partnerships needed to handle security at the highest levels of government, says Kelvin Coleman, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
"Partnerships in the private sector, partnerships across government as well … you have to be able to partner and work on these things together if you're going to successfully deal with cybersecurity," Coleman says of the nominees' positions. Bringing together disparate parts of the government to work together will pose a challenge within any of these roles.
"That role at CISA is all about partnerships, not only across the United States but across the globe," he continues. "You cannot have a mission of protecting the US and not have these robust partnerships."
Of course, each of these roles faces their own unique challenges. The security of government networks is in the spotlight following the supply chain attack that began with SolarWinds a few months back. For Inglis, if nominated and confirmed, a significant challenge lies in being the first to hold this position. There's nothing to base his role off of, Coleman points out, and hundreds of people have different ideas of what should be expected of him.
The pressure is on to appoint the right people to key cyber roles, and soon, he emphasizes.
"We are constantly under attack by nation states, by nation-state-sponsored organizations, and by criminal groups," Coleman says. "The urgency to make this happen is not today, it's not tomorrow – it's yesterday. And [the administration] has the urgency to do this soon, and it's coming from the top."