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  4. Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Keynote Address at Black Hat USA

Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Keynote Address at Black Hat USA

Release Date: August 5, 2021

On August 5, 2021, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas spoke at Black Hat USA.


Good Afternoon.  I’m very sorry that I’m not joining you in person. I was very much looking forward to being with you in Vegas again, including to stop by QueerCon and other events, but the unprecedented situation with respect to COVID-19 and the rising Delta variant prevents me from being there with you. I can assure you that if I was there in-person, I wouldn’t be dressed like I am now.


As you know better than most, a lot has changed in the last six years.

As it relates to the cybersecurity landscape, we’ve shifted from news headlines about data breaches and espionage, to ransomware attacks disrupting hospitals, schools, food suppliers, and pipelines. 

The assaults on companies like Colonial Pipeline, JBS Foods, and Kaseya, not to mention interference in our elections, have reinforced the importance of cybersecurity, of how we govern the internet, and of why we need a free and secure cyberspace.

What we face today is a need to put the big questions of our time into perspective. In order to do so, let me take you back, for a moment, a couple hundred years. 

At a time long before the world could fathom the concept of computers, cyberspace, coding, hacking, or anything like it.

Let’s turn to the early and mid-19th century, when some of the most powerful nations on the planet engaged in what would later be known as the “Great Game.”

This was an era when the competition for geopolitical influence pitted Great Britain against Russia and China over the question of who would control the vast land mass of Central Asia. Who would determine the rules of the road for trade, travel, and commerce – and whose values and priorities would shape societies across the globe.

The fight then was over land. Access to land led to control over people’s lives, health, jobs, and wellbeing. And there was a divide: between a deeply flawed yet aspiring democracy in Britain, and the Czars and dynasties who were focused on autocratic control over everything in their path – promoting and enforcing a closed, disconnected, and oppressive system.

We could spend many hours discussing the legacy of this chapter in history, what it means for us now, what has changed, and what lessons we can and should glean from it.

But here at Black Hat, I want to use this legacy as a jumping off point to discuss another “Great Game” that is playing out before us today and that will in fact dramatically shape our future. 

Although we’re no longer fighting for control of land, we are competing for territory we cannot see. 

We are competing for the future of cyberspace – one in which friends gather, colleagues communicate, businesses sell, consumers buy, dissidents organize, horrific crimes occur, governments hear from their citizens, and information is widely and quickly disseminated.

We are competing between two visions – one from countries like Russia, China, and Iran who want to limit access and maximize control, and another from the United States and our allies who want to build and protect a free, open, and secure internet.

We must ultimately confront some critical questions.

Who will build, own, control, and operate the underlying infrastructure of the internet, extending from undersea cables to data centers?

Who will shape the future of data routing?

How will we protect both privacy and security, online and offline?

How will we better protect ourselves against continuously growing and quickly evolving cyber threats?

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.  

The role we play in this space may surprise many of you.

Take the U.S. Secret Service, which is part of our Department and responsible not only for protecting the President, but also actively fighting ransomware and a range of other cyber-enabled crimes.

Or look at TSA, best known for protecting airport security, as so many of us know, that maintains regulatory authority over pipelines, which we leveraged following the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack to take urgent and critical measures to better protect against immediate cyber threats.

Or consider the Coast Guard, which saves thousands of lives at sea every year, and also protects the maritime transportation system against cyber threats.

And last, look at the Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA as it is commonly known, which is the federal government’s quarterback on cybersecurity. CISA reinforces our cyber resilience and equips critical infrastructure owners and operators, cities and states, businesses and organizations of all sizes, and even hospitals and schools, with the tools to defend against cyberattacks.

Earlier today you heard from Jen Easterly, CISA’s new Director, who talked about her journey from mastering the Rubik’s Cube as a child to attending West Point, serving in Iraq and at Fort Meade, working as a senior leader at Morgan Stanley, and now serving at DHS to help us confront some of the most urgent challenges currently facing our country. 

Jen exemplifies the impressive talent we have brought together at DHS to work on cybersecurity and resilience.

I am particularly excited about the new Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative that CISA is launching to unite stakeholders from across the federal government and the private sector around a whole-of-nation approach to cyber defense operations.

I have said before that the Department of Homeland Security—DHS—is fundamentally a department of partnerships. This Collaborative is just one of many efforts underway designed to leverage our partners to keep our communities safe.

We’re really hard at work and we have no illusions about the road ahead. There is nothing simple about the cybersecurity challenges we face, and we need your help to get this right. We need your expertise to inform our policies and the future of our critical mission.

We invite you to share your views with us. We will not shy away from the most complex matters before us.  In fact, we invite a fierce debate.

Take, for example, data routing.

There are open-ended questions we simply cannot ignore.

Who will protect data as it travels around the world? 

Should the United States government take a more proactive role in shaping data flows – or do we leave that responsibility to the private sector?

How can we ensure that American technology enterprises remain at the heart of the internet’s infrastructure across every layer, from the edge to the center, as we move forward?

How will we set the rules? How will we balance the United States and our allies’ priorities to create more openness, connectivity, and freedom, while autocratic regimes like Russia and China are laying claim to greater control with zero transparency or accountability?

These debates are necessary. The search for smart solutions is essential. And the demand for balanced, principled policies is unquestioned.

At the Department of Homeland Security, we’re dedicating considerable time, energy, and resources to carefully think through these complicated questions. And alongside our counterparts worldwide and in the private sector, we work to solve them. We would really benefit from your expertise and we invite you to join the conversation.

We cannot ignore an essential truth: we are all in this together. 

We must also acknowledge what we all know, which is that full agreement on every issue is impossible, and unanimity cannot be the measure of success or progress.

The fact is, the strength of our democracy, the promotion of a free and open internet, the fairness of our economies, and the security of our communities is a shared responsibility that is more timely and more relevant than ever before.

These ideals apply to what is happening in cyber space; what is transpiring on the internet; and how we govern the digital sphere where so much engagement, activism, advocacy, education, and economic activity occur today.

The “Great Game” is playing out in cyber space right now. 

I know that all of you love to work on tough problems. You’re compelled to solve seemingly unsolvable puzzles. So, here’s the bottom line: we need your help. 

We cannot answer these questions alone and we want you to join us in addressing them.

There are two immediate ways you can get involved.

First, come work with us at the Department of Homeland Security. Join our team of cybersecurity experts at CISA and the rest of DHS.  Lead the charge on the inside and help us tackle growing challenges head on.

I am proud to announce that we’re launching our new Cyber Talent Management System in short order.  This initiative – which is the product of a law enacted seven years ago – will give us more flexibility to hire the very best cyber talent and ensure we can compete more effectively with the private sector.

It’s taken too long to get here, but we are proud to have gotten this hiring effort over the finish line.  Developing a top-tier, diverse cybersecurity workforce will remain a priority for us at DHS and the federal government under the Biden-Harris Administration.

I cannot overstate the pride and sense of profound fulfillment one will have in joining our team.  You can really do a lot here with us.

Second, if you are not interested in working with us, you can help bridge the gap between the hacker community and the federal government.  As our partners and experts in the field, you can be our defenders of a free, open, and secure internet, and you can help inspire the next generation of cyber talent too.

Just a couple days ago, we kicked off a new partnership with Girl Scouts of the USA to provide girls with the tools and resources to learn more about cybersecurity and become active ambassadors for related best practices in their communities.

We are increasing access to the field of cybersecurity across every level.  We seek to draw on every ounce of talent and maximize the incredible potential that exists in communities across our country.  We want every voice at the table. 

We need your creativity, your ideas, your boldness, and your willingness to push limits.  We need you to help us navigate a path that has not yet been mapped.

What’s at stake here is nothing less than the future of the Internet, the future of our economic and national security, and the future of our country.

So let’s keep this conversation going. To protect our neighbors, our networks, our families, our rights, and ourselves, we have to work together.

Let’s do it, and thanks very much.

Last Updated: 08/06/2021
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