Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced today that DHS will increase the required minimum spend on cybersecurity through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant awards from 5 percent to 7.5 percent – approximately a $25 million increase across the country.

Mayorkas also announced he is looking to implement new grant programs through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to support state and local governments, because “the nation’s cybersecurity is only as strong as its weakest link.”

“Cybersecurity is not only about protecting the Federal government. This is certainly a top priority, especially now in the wake of the ongoing cyber campaign,” Mayorkas said at CISA’s President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition. “But cybersecurity is also about protecting critical infrastructure across the country and protecting the American people. We’re currently fighting not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also an epidemic that is spreading through cyberspace: ransomware.”

“We have to be clear; ransomware is not new. It has been around for years. What is new is the evolution of attackers’ methods, namely their ability to make money from it, and the increased frequency of these attacks,” Mayorkas added. “Ransomware, tackling it, and protecting the weakest link, will require partnering with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and private sector entities across the country. This cross-sector collaboration is the hallmark of DHS’ approach to cybersecurity.”

DHS will soon announce a series of cybersecurity sprints “to mobilize action in specific priority areas,” according to Mayorkas. To start, Mayorkas said the first set will be dedicated to combatting ransomware by “building a deep and diverse cyber workforce and urgently improving the security of our nation’s industrial control systems.”

The President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition is designed to challenge and reward cybersecurity talent in the Federal workforce. The competition is open to both the Federal civilian workforce and members of the military.

“The President’s Cup showcases some of the best cybersecurity talent in the country,” Brandon Wales, acting CISA director, said in a statement earlier this week. “Those competing this week, like countless other men and women on the front lines, are our nation’s greatest asset when it comes to securing cyberspace. Just as they are constantly adapting and innovating to stay one step ahead of the adversary, we must adapt too, and that means continuing to grow and diversify the country’s cybersecurity workforce.”

Mayorkas thanked the competition’s participants for their service and said the United States will need their “knowledge and skills to move our country’s cybersecurity forward.”

“Our cybersecurity cannot be advanced in a vacuum. It takes talented people, talented people like you,” Mayorkas said to the competition’s participants. “We need to expand the pool of cyber talent with the skills to write secure code, defend our networks, respond to incidents when they occur, and protect our critical infrastructure from cyberattacks. To build a more robust cybersecurity workforce, we must ensure a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive cybersecurity workforce.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.