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DHS announces new initiatives to combat growing cyber threats under Biden

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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its new Director, Alejandro Mayorkas, announced several new initiatives related to cybersecurity that it hopes will address the glowing global threats that persistently endanger Americans online. 

DHS, which is going through the obvious changes and difficulties that would be associated with a transition to a new administration, faces a growing number of evolving threats, as the logistical changes to business and education associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a spike in hacking attacks internationally. 

One of the many new strategies that Mayorkas has talked up in the past few days involves the US increasing cybersecurity spending via Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants. Under this plan, state and local governments that apply for and receive these FEMA grants are required to spend at least 7.5% of the award on improving cybersecurity in their jurisdiction. Previously, recipients of these kinds of grants were only required to spend a minimum of 5% securing their local citizenry from online threats.

On the surface, this particular initiative fails to inspire much confidence in the priority that President Biden’s DHS is giving to the cybersecurity issue. A 2.5 percent mandatory increase in the use of funds awarded from FEMA grants is not really much, especially when you consider the fact that on several occasions, foreign powers have been able to successfully hack into the American electric grid as well as other elements of our most critical infrastructure.

Any successful large-scale attack against American electricity would effectively take the affected regions immediately back to the 1800’s. One example of the potential peril the United States faces if a successful terrorist attack “shuts off the lights” was the five-day period in 2019 when Venezuela faced a nationwide power outage. 

Dozens of patients died in hospitals as a direct result of the outage, as many power generators, which aren’t 100% reliable, wound up failing. Most of the deaths were kidney failure patients who could not receive their regular life-sustaining dialysis treatments and gunshot wound victims that due to the dark conditions, could not be safely operated on by surgeons.

Additionally, there were stories immediately circulating the country about pregnant women giving birth in the dark and prematurely born children fighting to live in failing incubators.

While there is a constant threat of potential catastrophic devastation hanging over America’s head on the macro level, the far majority of cyber threats exist and are executed on the micro-level. So, to better address the rise in criminal activity related specifically to ransomware, DHS also announced an initiative called the Reduce the Risk of Ransomware Campaign, which will be administrated by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a sub-division of DHS. 

According to a press release from CISA, the program is “a focused, coordinated and sustained effort to encourage public and private sector organizations to implement best practices, tools and resources that can help them mitigate this cybersecurity risk and threat,” according to a press release from CISA.

Ransomware, which is a popular malware variant utilized by hackers to turn a fast profit, was statistically the most prevalent online threat of 2020, according to global corporate investigations and risk consulting firm Kroll‘s proprietary cyber incident response data. Specifically, it indicated that ransomware was responsible for over one-third of attacks through September 1, 2020.

Another newer trend that has been established during the early portion of the Biden administration is the rise in hacking attacks targeting Mac users. Mac computers, which were often mistakenly seen as malware and virus-proof, have recently been prioritized as a target by authors of malicious code and the hacking syndicates that distribute those infections. 

In the past few weeks, over 30,000 Mac computers were attacked by new strains of malware including Silver Sparrow and another particularly annoying strain that tricks victims with an alarming pop-up message stating that some of the popular apps and utilities that are found on the computer are malware and will damage the Mac. The message offers to move the program to the trash but doing so does nothing to solve the problem. 

The Biden administration and the associated agencies within that are responsible for America’s cybersecurity posture must examine the issue from every possible angle in order to keep one step ahead of not only the state-sponsored hacking groups responsible for major attacks, including the widely reported SolarWinds hacking attack that affected several government agencies, but the smaller rogue outfits that inflict a considerable amount of economic damage on average citizens. 

Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by websites including Newsmax, Townhall, American Thinker and BizPacReview.

Julio Rivera

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