After an eight-month void in official leadership, the U.S. Senate this week confirmed former Obama-era senior National Security Agency official Jen Easterly to lead the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) amid increasingly frequent digital attacks.
Easterly, who formerly served on the National Security Council as Special Assistant to President Barack Obama and as Senior Director for Counterterrorism, among other roles, takes the reins from Brandon Wales, who has served as acting director of the agency since November. Her approval was unanimous, following delays caused by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who sought to slow the appointment of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to force President Joe Biden to visit the U.S.-Mexican border.
“It is unfortunate that political games delayed her confirmation, but we are pleased the Senate has finally acted to confirm Jen Easterly as CISA Director,” House Chairs Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Yvette Clarke (D-NY), of the Committee on Homeland Security and the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection & Innovations, respectively, said of Easterly’s appointment. “At a time when cyber threats are increasing and evolving, Jen Easterly brings the experience and leadership needed to strengthen our nation’s cybersecurity. We look forward to working with her to ensure CISA is best positioned to fulfill its mission of protecting Federal networks and critical infrastructure.”
CISA is in charge of improving cybersecurity in the government, coordinating cybersecurity efforts with states, and countering private and nation-state hackers. Recent days, however, have stressed the current limits of such capabilities. Formed in 2018 out of DHS’s cyber operations, CISA has struggled to protect the nation’s physical and digital infrastructure against a mounting slew of attacks, even as new legislation heaps new duties on its roughly 2,500 personnel.
“Today, CISA finds itself at the forefront of several major cyber incidents impacting both federal networks and the private sector,” U.S. Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said. “Now more than ever, our nation’s lead civilian cybersecurity agency needs strong leadership. Jen Easterly has a proven record of success in government and industry alike, and I applaud her confirmation by the Senate. Our nation is at a crossroads when it comes to our cybersecurity posture, and I look forward to working with Ms. Easterly to ensure CISA has the resources, workforce, and authorities it needs to effectively carry out its mission.”
This year has seen an increase of high-profile cyberattacks, including the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in May by an alleged Russian cybercrime gang, which crippled the energy infrastructure and supplies for nearly half of the East Coast’s liquid fuels. Kaseya, an IT solutions developer, was also hit in July in a ransomware attack that exploited authentication controls to hit hundreds of small to medium-sized companies throughout the United States.
Additionally, the national security infrastructure is still reeling from the SolarWinds hack at the end of last year, which has been declared one of the most devastating in history. Global software supply chains were proven to be highly vulnerable, and the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture, and Commerce were all among those compromised. Officials later alleged the hackers involved in that attack were linked to Russia.
Amid an uncertain time for both the public and private sectors’ security, many seem to be lauding an old and steady hand added for the fight. While thanking the outgoing director for his efforts in an acting capacity, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, in particular, applauded the addition of Easterly as the second-ever Senate-confirmed director to head CISA.
“Jen is a brilliant cybersecurity expert and a proven leader with a career spanning military service, civil service, and the private sector,” Mayorkas said. “I am proud to welcome her to the DHS team and look forward to working together to protect our country from urgent cybersecurity and physical threats.”