After Congress approved his nomination in 2021, Chris Inglis served as the first-ever National Cyber Director for the White House. Now he wants to retire. So who’s next?
As of January 2023, there remains uncertainty as to who will take on the role. Front runner, however, is Kemba Walden, acting director of the Office of the National Cyber Director. Walden is a former Microsoft executive who joined the National Cyber Director’s office in May. Prior to her appointment, Walden served as deputy national security adviser on cyber and emerging technology in the Biden administration.
If not Walden, who else could take over from Inglis? The best answer is to look at the senior cybersecurity people in the Biden administration who advise Biden directly.
A group of well-qualified followers
United States national cybersecurity has been a priority for President Biden. To ensure the most efficient protocols are followed, the President has appointed several senior members of his team as direct advisors with specific responsibility for cybersecurity issues. These consultants bring extensive expertise in national security operations and risk management across multiple sectors. They have played a key role in building national defenses and are expert problem solvers in the face of evolving threats. This highly specialized group provides the strength and stability needed to maintain national cybersecurity in a rapidly evolving threat landscape.
Key senior cybersecurity officials include the aforementioned Chris Inglis as first national cyber director, Jen Easterly as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of homeland security, Kemba Walden as first assistant secretary of state cyber director, Neal Higgins as Deputy National Cyber Director for National Cybersecurity and Rob Knake as Deputy National Cyber Director for Budget and Policy.
A promising candidate
While everyone has a crucial role to play here, Jen Easterly stands out for her extensive cybersecurity background. Easterly is an internationally recognized cybersecurity expert who was formerly Associate Director of the United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for National Protection and Programs Directorate in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Before joining CISA, she held leadership positions in both the private sector and government. This included a four-year stint at IBM Global Services as a Senior Consulting Analyst.
Ms. Easterly’s expansive career has provided cybersecurity services in both the public and private sectors. She achieved many of her notable achievements while working at CISA, where she initiated pioneering efforts to improve information sharing between critical infrastructure sectors and led work addressing cyber threats from foreign actors. She also led cybersecurity staff development and led a collaborative effort to modernize how federal agencies respond to the ever-increasing threats posed by malicious actors online.
Outside of government service, Easterly has also been instrumental in developing several successful commercial programs focused on protecting enterprise IT assets through best practices such as risk allocation and attack surface reduction.
Initial concerns dispelled
Though many promising candidates have surfaced for the post of National Cyber Director, the role itself has not been without controversy. Following the appointment of Chris Inglis, Concerns arose that there were “too many cooks” in the federal cyber leadership kitchen. Additionally, there was uncertainty as to who would be the true “quarterback” who would be in charge of national cybersecurity going forward. While Inglis’ extensive background in national security steered much of the discourse towards a sense of confidence, there still remained undertones that he was just a man of undue power without a larger backing organization behind him.
Although uncertain at the time, these concerns have since been resolved. Inglis has proven more than capable of addressing national cybersecurity amidst a coalition of national leaders and organizations.
The Role of the National Cyber Director
The National Cyber Director has brought tremendous benefits to the public and private sectors over the past year and a half. Essentially acting as a bridge between the two sectors, the Director ensures that national interests remain at the forefront of government agendas while encouraging collaboration with industry stakeholders.
As National Cyber Director, Inglis developed national-level policies to protect organizations of all sizes from cyber threats and worked with government agencies to identify areas of need across the cybersecurity landscape. As a result, companies could prioritize investments in cybersecurity. better understand their threats, stay abreast of technological innovation, and adopt best practices—all in an effort to ensure national security.
IBM Security Intelligence reached out to the Office of the National Cyber Director (ONCD) regarding the role. They responded with the following statement:
“ONCD’s mission is to create a resilient, safe and just cyberspace. We do this by focusing on long-term strategic planning while employing short-term tactics to mitigate existing vulnerabilities. Ultimately, we want to take back the initiative from the opponent and reinvent cyberspace with a positive vision that aligns with our values.”
How ONCD achieves its goals
ONCD’s statement went on to detail how it is addressing these goals:
“Most importantly, ONCD is leading the interagency drafting process for the Biden-Harris administration’s national cybersecurity strategy. A process in which we solicited input from over 300 stakeholders from industry, foreign governments, academia and the non-profit sector. This exceptional level of collaboration is a recognition that the terrain in cyberspace is primarily privately owned and that public-private partnerships are paramount to successfully addressing cybersecurity challenges. “We have also initiated an ongoing series of topical leadership forums. Leveraging the White House’s unique convening power, we bring industry leaders together with cabinet secretaries and lawmakers to share threat intelligence and drive collaboration at the highest possible level. Among them was the National Cyber Workforce and Education Summit in July. At the summit, ONCD announced the development of a national cyber workforce and education strategy. A resulting RFI received over 150 responses from a wide range of stakeholders. ONCD is reviewing these and is working to release the full strategy, which includes many of these contributions, in the coming months. “Finally, we worked aggressively with our colleagues across the agency to improve the security of the federal company. These included overseeing the implementation of Executive Order 14028, deploying the Zero Trust architecture, releasing the first-of-its-kind “Spring Guidance” on cybersecurity budgeting, and initiating a planning process for post-quantum encryption.”
The next national cyber director is drawing near
That leaves the identity of the next National Cyber Director in question. As the US government ramps up its cyber defenses, replacing Inglis remains a priority. This influential role will develop and coordinate the nation’s cybersecurity strategy.
When asked for insight into the plans when Chris Inglis retires, the ONCD states:
“Regarding the retirement of Principal Inglis – he will retire sometime this year after five decades of public service. At that point, Principal Deputy Kemba Walden will become Acting National Cyber Director and continue to lead the organization with the same passion she has as Deputy Principal.”
Whether it’s Walden, Easterly, or another senior official, the country’s cybersecurity efforts appear to be in good hands.