CISA Chief Unveils Vision for Federal Cybersecurity

Evan Vucci/AP

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Civilian agencies shouldn’t all be forced to manage their own cyber risks, Chris Krebs said.

The Homeland Security Department’s cyber chief on Thursday countered the notion that every civilian agency should be responsible for managing their own digital risks and said federal leaders are considering ways to centralize those operations.

“The 99 federal civilian agencies all manage their own risk, all own their own networks—that is not a particularly defensible posture,” Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said Tuesday in a speech at Auburn University. “In five years, I think you may see a completely different architecture across those 99 agencies.”

Already, he said, CISA is working with Congress and the Office of Management and Budget to explore new mechanisms to consolidate the government’s far-flung cybersecurity efforts. And while today CISA serves largely as the government’s risk advisor, Krebs suggested the organization is well-poised to take on a more active role.

“There may be some of those agencies that say ‘you know what I can’t do this anymore, somebody else do it for me,’” he said. “Whether we do it or someone else does it, it’s got to change. We need to make sure we [understand] what’s happening across the entirety of the federal government so we can manage risk.”

In April, OMB launched a new program that designates specific agencies as shared service providers for the rest of the government. Under the policy, the Homeland Security Department is charged with assisting other agencies’ cybersecurity efforts, which could include rolling out capabilities, drafting contracts and helping agencies stand up their systems. The department already oversees a number of governmentwide cyber initiatives, including Einstein and the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program.

The remarks came as Krebs unveiled his long-term plans for the agency, which was officially created in November to replace the DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate. In his remarks, Krebs said the agency will serve primarily as a facilitator of security, aiding government agencies and private companies in protecting their assets rather than “pushing buttons” itself.

Those organizations are responsible for managing their own risk, he said. “My job is to provide them [the] information, insight, coordinating mechanisms and capacity building tools or capabilities to get better.”

Krebs went on to detail CISA’s priorities for the years ahead, which were also outlined in a strategic plan the agency published Thursday.

According to the document, the agency center focuses its efforts on five major principles:

  • Lead efforts to secure the nation’s critical infrastructure while collaborating with other stakeholders.
  • Prioritize risk management efforts to address the greatest threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Focus on results-oriented approaches to security.
  • Provide solutions that respect civil liberties and American values.
  • Unify the agency under a single mission.

The document also listed five specific security topics where Krebs intends to focus CISA’s efforts: Chinese supply chain and 5G risks, election security, securing soft targets (read: crowded venues), federal cybersecurity and protecting industrial control systems.

“I am encouraged to see that Director Krebs has a strategy and a vision to guide CISA at this pivotal time,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement. “If this newly-rebranded agency is going to be effective in securing U.S. critical infrastructure against physical and cyber threats, it will need steady leadership, a talented workforce and a realistic understanding of its resource needs.”