A cyber expert is up for the DHS secretary gig

Cybersecurity experts are hailing President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Kirstjen Nielsen to be the next secretary of Homeland Security, as POLITICO first reported on Wednesday.

Nielsen, who is White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s deputy and was his chief of staff when he led DHS, would be the first permanent secretary to have once served in the department. She is also an expert on cyber issues, having founded a consulting firm specializing in cyber risk and critical infrastructure resiliency. “Kirstjen Nielsen is a great choice. Her cyber experience will be quite valuable,” tweeted Philip Reitinger, a former deputy head of DHS’s cyber wing, the National Protection and Programs Directorate.

Before taking her DHS job earlier this year, Nielsen was a senior fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. During the Bush administration, she was a special assistant to the president and senior director for prevention, preparedness and response at the National Security Council. Frank Cilluffo, director at the GW center, told MC that Nielsen was “cyber savvy” and possessed “real expertise.” Said Cilluffo: “This is someone who can speak to cyber from a governance perspective but also go toe-to-toe with an intelligence analyst on threat indicators.” He said Nielsen developed a real understanding of cyber resilience before it was “in vogue,” meaning she understands that successful attacks are inevitable and the need to withstand attacks is vital. She also understands the international side of cyber especially well, Cilluffo said, because she focused on it during a stint at the World Economic Forum. And Cilluffo said she’ll naturally be well-equipped to pick a leader for the vacancies atop NPPD.

Nielsen’s understanding of DHS’s cyber responsibilities makes her a wise choice for the job, said Andrew Grotto, a former senior director for cybersecurity policy at the NSC. Grotto, who joined the NSC during the Obama administration but stayed to help the Trump team craft the president’s cybersecurity executive order, praised Nielsen for her “awareness that DHS’ ability to execute its cyber missions across critical infrastructure and federal networks requires the DHS secretary to remain actively engaged in managing her Department, engaging Cabinet peers, and building relationships with C-suite leaders within industry.” He also told MC she was “smart, tough and experienced, and clearly has strong relationships with the West Wing — critical attributes for succeeding in one of the toughest jobs in the Cabinet.”

The White House touted Nielsen’s “extensive professional experience in the areas of homeland security policy and strategy, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure and emergency management.” Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, whose committee will vet her nomination, also heralded her “cybersecurity experience.” But Nielsen isn’t guaranteed a smooth ride through Congress. Her very act of serving in the White House prompted worries from top House Homeland Security Democrat Bennie Thompson that she must not be a “political pawn” for the Trump administration. Thompson also raised questions about her role in the “botched” response to Hurricane Katrina.

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FIRST IN MC: GAO TO PROBE FCC DDoS — The Government Accountability Office will investigate the FCC’s cybersecurity posture, MC has learned, in the wake of what the commission said was a cyberattack on its comment filing system. Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Frank Pallone, both senior Democrats on their respective chambers’ technology panels, requested the probe on Aug. 17, and a Pallone spokesman told MC on Wednesday that the GAO agreed on Sept. 8 to add the probe to its queue. “The work on this request will not begin until about six months when staff will become available,” the GAO told the lawmakers in a letter, according to a Schatz spokesman. The GAO confirmed to MC that the agency would probe the FCC’s digital security practices and that the work would not start for “several months.”

TODAY: NORTH KOREAN CYBER WARNING HEARING House Homeland Security subcommittee today will examine North Korean threats against the U.S. homeland, including cyber threats. The aforementioned Cilluffo plans to warn of an uptick in North Korean cybercrime, highlight steps Pyongyang is taking to fortify its own cyber defenses and urge greater cooperation between DHS, the FBI and Defense Department as key to defending federal networks and aiding the private sector.


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