Mar 31, 2021 - Technology

DHS chief Mayorkas outlines cybersecurity plan after hack attacks

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas delivers remarks while visiting a FEMA community vaccination center on March 2, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Philadelphia earlier this month. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday warned that "cyberthreats are coming dangerously close to threatening our lives" as he announced a series of "sprints" designed to counter online attacks.

Why it matters: "Our government got hacked last year and we didn’t know about it for months," Mayorkas said. It wasn't until cybersecurity firm SolarWinds "got hacked itself and alerted the government" when federal officials learned the extent of the problem, he noted.

  • President Biden took office a month after it was revealed that suspected Russian hackers launched a massive cyberattack on multiple government agencies and U.S. companies.
  • Politico reported earlier this month that the Biden administration, government agencies and U.S. firms were still encountering cyberattackers "without the services of a cybersecurity czar to coordinate a response and keep lawmakers in the loop," as the national cyber director position remained vacant.

What's happening: Mayorkas announced a series of 60-day sprints, "each focused on the most important and most urgent priorities needed to achieve our goals."

  • The first sprint will focus on the fight against ransomware, said Mayorkas, noting that "individuals, companies, schools, even hospitals and other critical infrastructure have been among the victims."
  • "There are actors out there who maliciously use ransomware during an unprecedented and ongoing global pandemic, disrupting hospitals as hundreds of thousands die," Mayorkas added.

What to watch: Other agency sprints will center on strengthening the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the cyber workforce, and bolstering the security of industrial control systems.

  • The Biden administration is working on an executive order to bolster federal cybersecurity following the hacking of SolarWinds and the Microsoft Exchange Server — which was targeted by a cyber espionage unit backed by the Chinese government, it emerged earlier this month.

Of note: Mayorkas said the administration is committed to set up the newly created Senate-confirmed national cyber director position for success, but he did not elaborate on this and the Biden administration did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

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