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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
The Christopher Krebs era at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) ended unceremoniously with the firing of the first ever director of the new sub-division within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by President Trump in what was portrayed by some in the media as a vindictive firing by the outgoing President.
The firing occurred as President Trump’s legal battle to attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential Election was just truly getting started. Despite the almost instantaneous efforts of the President’s legal team to collect evidence and wage a public relations battle to delegitimize the election result, a November 17th Joint statement from the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Executive Committees clearly contradicted those efforts by proclaiming that, “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. Right now, across the country, election officials are reviewing and double checking the entire election process prior to finalizing the result.”
The statement also sought to vehemently deny many of the voter fraud arguments that had already sprouted up in the days following the hotly contested election and included in bold lettering that, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
The Krebs firing also created additional speculation there may be more high-profile dismissals related to the election on the horizon. Among the major players serving under Trump that were rumored to be on the “chopping block” were Trump’s 2nd and final Attorney General, William Barr, who resigned last month.
In early December, Barr’s DOJ echoed the sentiment coming from Krebs’ CISA that there wasn’t sufficient proof to back up Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud. In a widely circulated interview with the Associated Press, Barr stated that DOJ attorneys that assisted the FBI to investigate the election had “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
In the 2 months that have past since that fateful night in November, the incoming Biden administration has been met with several roadblocks towards a smooth transfer of power and several key agencies, namely CISA, cannot afford the confusion and disorder associated with the already contentious transition in the face of looming international security threats.
Currently, Krebs’ former position is being at least, temporarily held, by Brandon Wales. Wales was appointed by President Trump as the Acting Director for CISA, on November 17th, 2020. Although Wales is highly qualified as he was formally CISA’s first Executive Director, and his previous service for DHS from August 2017 to December 2019 included multiple roles that included Senior Counselor to the Secretary for Cyber and Resilience and a role as the Director of the DHS Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis (OCIA), which provides integrated analysis of cyber and physical risks to America’s critical infrastructure, he is seen mostly as a placeholder for an eventually Biden administration appointment.
Currently, one of the biggest issues facing CISA is the wide-ranging SolarWinds hacking attack that has so far struck over at least 2000 networks belonging to at least 100 governmental and non-governmental agencies all over the world. The news of the attack first broke just weeks after the firing of Krebs.
So far, the attacks have been pinned on APT29 (Advanced Persistent Threat) from Russia. The group has in the past operated under the names Cozy Bear, Cozy Duke, the Dukes, and Office Monkeys. The notorious hacking group utilized a previously unseen strain of malicious code dubbed as SUNBURST malware in the attack.
In an interview last week with website cyberscoop, Wales said, “The number [of federal victims] is likely to grow with further investigation.”
Ironically enough, Krebs, who was basically America’s top Cybersecurity official during most of the attack, which is believed to have begun in March of 2020, was just hired as a consultant by SolarWinds last week.
“We have brought in the expertise of Chris Krebs and Alex Stamos to assist in this review and provide best-in-class guidance on our journey to evolve into an industry leading secure software development company,” SolarWinds said in a statement.
Some may argue that CISA under Krebs was unable to protect American companies from the rise of foreign APTs, which have been attacking the United States from countries including Russia, China, and Iran. It is a fair criticism. Additionally, with his statement regarding the security of the 2020 election, Krebs basically failed to acknowledge the cyberattack against Hall County, GA, that compromised the voter data of over 180,000 residents.
We will learn more about the scope and gravity of the SolarWinds attack in the coming months. At this point, the company hopes that the insider knowledge brought to the table by Krebs will help them secure themselves from any similar attacks in the future. Whether or not that proves to be the case remains to be seen, but perhaps having a more singular focus in his new capacity can help bring out the best in the still very young former CISA director.
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