DHS cyber chief focused on 2020

Christopher Krebs, the first director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), is zeroing in on elections ahead of November.

CISA was created out of the former National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) and signed into law by President Trump in late 2018. It is one of the primary federal agencies tasked with assisting state and local officials in bolstering election security.

“I spend at this point 40 to 50 percent of my time on election security issues,” Krebs told The Hill during an interview at CISA headquarters this month. “A top priority for us right now is protecting 2020.”

During the 2018 midterm elections, CISA hosted a situational awareness room on Election Day to continuously monitor threats across the country and worked closely with regional officials to address cyber vulnerabilities. Krebs said he saw getting through the midterms “unscathed” as part of his legacy as the first director of CISA, the newest agency in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“I’m not looking at 2020 as a metric or some sort of legacy mark, but what I want my legacy to be — and I hope to be here for longer — is that CISA is a meaningful player in the national and international stage,” Krebs said.

With the 2020 elections looming, Krebs said he hopes this will be “the year of CISA.”

“We took 2019 to figure out, OK we go from NPPD to CISA, what does that process look like?” Krebs said. “It’s not just as simple as you slap a name on the building and issue new business cards and some T-shirts and socks and you’re good to go; it’s much more the internal realignments we had to make.”

Krebs’s career experience helped prepare him for the multiple roles CISA plays, which run from assisting with federal agency cybersecurity to protecting soft targets such as the Super Bowl from attacks.

Krebs served as a DHS adviser during the George W. Bush administration, working on issues including defending Defense Department networks against foreign threats, and then moved over to Microsoft to lead its policy work on cybersecurity and technology issues.

He returned to DHS in 2017, initially to serve as an adviser to former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Following Kelly’s departure and the promotion of Kirstjen Nielsen to the secretary position, Krebs became what he described as the “accidental director” first of NPPD, then the newly formed CISA, with the Senate voting to confirm him in 2018.

“I didn’t anticipate necessarily being in this role, I didn’t necessarily anticipate the agency being here. I just wanted to come in and make a difference,” Krebs said.