#BHUSA: DHS Chief: 'We are Competing for the Future of Cyberspace'

Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), sees the future of cyberspace as being a contest of ideals, between openness and authoritarianism.

Mayorkas delivered his remarks in a keynote at the Black Hat US 2021 hybrid event on August 5. He noted that in recent years the cybersecurity landscape has shifted, with news headlines about data breaches; ransomware attacks disrupting hospitals, schools, food suppliers and pipelines; as well as interference in elections. The events of the last few years, according to Mayorkas, have served to reinforce the importance of cybersecurity, how it is governed and why there is a need for a free and secure cyberspace.

"Although we're no longer fighting for control of land, we are competing for territory that we cannot see," Mayorkas said. "We are competing for the future of cyberspace."

The Competing Visions for the Internet

In Mayorkas' view, in the world today there are two competing visions for the future of the internet.

One vision comes from countries like Russia, China and Iran that want to limit access and maximize control. The other vision comes the United States and its allies, who want to build and protect a free, open and secure internet.

"We must ultimately confront some critical questions like who will build, control and operate the underlying infrastructure of the internet, extending from undersea cables to data centers," Mayorkas said. "How will we protect both privacy and security, online and offline, and how can we better protect ourselves against continuously growing and quickly evolving cyber-threats."

The Role of DHS

In the battle for the future of the internet, Mayorkas emphasized that his agency plays a critical role.

"Every day, the Department of Homeland Security tackles these issues, which are not limited to the great game that exists between democratic and authoritarian governments, as they also include the relationship between government and private- sector entities," Mayorkas said.

Mayorkas explained that the US Secret Service, which is part of DHS, is not only responsible for protecting the president, but is also actively fighting ransomware along with a range of other cyber-enabled crimes. The Transport Safety Authority (TSA) is best known for protecting airport security, and it also maintains regulatory authority over pipelines. That control was essential, following the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, enabling the government to take urgent and critical measures. Additionally, he noted that the US Coast Guard, which saves thousands of lives at sea every year, also protects the maritime transportation system against cyber-threats.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which is now led by Jen Easterly, who delivered the morning keynote at Black Hat, is also part of DHS.

"DHS is a fundamentally a department of partnerships," Mayorkas said. "We're really hard at work, and we have no illusions about the road ahead. There's nothing simple about the cybersecurity challenges we face, and we need your help to get this right."

Mayorkas, much like Easterly, made a pitch for the Black Hat audience to join the government either directly or via partnership to help improve the current status.

"We need you to help us navigate a path that has not yet been mapped," Mayorkas stated emphatically. "What's at stake here is nothing less than the future of the internet, the future of our economy and national security, and the future of our country."

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