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Aspen Cyber Summit Explores Collective Defense in a Digital World

September 29, 2021 by Victoria Turner
Jen Easterly, Director, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

WASHINGTON — The Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency has met President Biden’s cybersecurity executive order’s “highly aggressive deadlines so far,” but there is “still a lot of work to do,” said CISA Director Jen Easterly Wednesday. 

Kicking off the 6th annual Aspen Cyber Summit, Exploring Collective Defense in a Digital World, Easterly said she has identified four areas “to put out resources” to cyber-defend the nation: culture and talent, federal cybersecurity, critical infrastructure security, and partnerships. 

The newest federal agency under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been given an array of new responsibilities through the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act and $650 million from the American Rescue Plan in order to complete its mission of securing the nation’s physical and digital infrastructure, Easterly said.

To do so, Easterly stated that the agency first needs to transform itself into the “agency the nation deserves” by establishing a culture of inclusion, transparency, collaboration, ownership and empowerment in order to attract and retain a strong, diverse cyber workforce. 

“I believe diversity of thought, background and experience helps you solve the hardest problems much quicker,” she said, pointing out CISA will be awarding grants to nonprofits for underserved communities to this end, but also to build “cyber..and digital resilience.” 

The latter, she explained, means training people to protect themselves online from “K through grey,” which “at the end of the day…it’s thinking before you click” and implementing steps like multi-factor authentication. According to Easterly, an industry study showed that accounts with MFAs had 99% less chance of being hacked. 

The second major area of concern is federal cybersecurity, she said, with lawmakers looking to reform the 2014 Federal Information Modernization Act as part of an effort to modernize the federal government. 

FISMA reform, she said, should be used to “codify CISA’s role as the operational lead for federal cybersecurity.” 

Within the nation’s critical functions and infrastructure sectors, she said, “everything is connected, everything is interdependent, everything is vulnerable.” This means there is a lot of emphasis across the board on establishing performance goals. For example, she said, the close collaboration with energy, water, wastewater and chemical pipeline companies as CISA works with the White House on their 100-day sprint to secure the U.S. power grid

But 85% of the U.S. infrastructure is operated by the private sector, she pointed out. This comes down to partnerships among federal, state. local governments and private industry, which led to the creation of the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative.

Specifically, the JCDC will:

  • Design and implement comprehensive, whole-of-nation cyber defense plans to address risks and facilitate coordinated action;
  • Share insight to shape joint understanding of challenges and opportunities for cyber defense;
  • Implement coordinated defensive cyber operations to prevent and reduce impacts of cyber intrusions; and
  • Support joint exercises to improve cyber defense operations.

So CISA, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Defense’s U.S. Cyber Command have joined up “with the power of the private sector,” she said. 

“If you can’t see it, you can’t defend it,” Easterly explained, “so the whole point is, we can use this to see the dots to connect the dots, and then drive collective action to reduce risk at scale.”

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