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Illustration by Security Management

U.S. Top Cybersecurity Official Fired

U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Twitter Tuesday that he decided to fire Chris Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which has led the way for federal cybersecurity initiatives, public–private sector information sharing and partnerships, and election security.

Trump cited Krebs’s statement, saying it was “highly inaccurate,” according to The Associated Press, despite that the statement was signed by 59 election officials from across the country and asserted that the 2020 election was the most secure in U.S. history. The firing was not wholly unexpected; Krebs’s work on CISA’s Rumor Control website—which refutes rumors around alleged election fraud and mis- or disinformation, including comments from the president and his surrogates—has rankled White House officials and spokespeople for weeks.

The decision spurred prompt and widespread criticism from cybersecurity community leaders, who credit Krebs for repairing the fractured relationship between the U.S. government and the private sector, as well as unifying election security intelligence and educating disparate voting system managers on cyber risks.

“CISA’s successes are often attributed to a deliberate effort by Krebs to reshape the agency into one that epitomizes the best of public–private partnerships,” SC Magazine reported.

Shortly after the president tweeted about the dismissal, Krebs posted from his personal Twitter account: “Honored to serve. We did it right.”

“His departure leaves a significant void that could ultimately undermine public–private partnerships to combat the ongoing siege of cyberattacks from our nation state actors,” wrote Tom Kellermann, head of Cybersecurity Strategy at VMware Carbon Black and a member of the Secret Service’s Cyber Investigations Advisory Bureau, in an emailed statement to SC.

According to a statement from former CISA Assistant Director Brian Harrell, CPP, to Security Management, “Based on experiences from 2016 and 2018, CISA was ready for the worst on Election Day with better mechanisms to share threat information with our state and local officials, law enforcement, and intelligence partners. While we now have citizens better educated on the risks of election influence and disinformation, the professionals at CISA and Chris Krebs deserve a ton of credit for keeping a watchful eye on our nation-state adversaries. 

”It’s a shame, that in this Administration, you can be fired for safeguarding the American people and faithfully doing your duties,” Harrell concluded.

Last week, CISA’s assistant director for cybersecurity Bryan S. Ware left the agency over conflict with the Administration regarding election fraud claims. Krebs’s deputy, Matt Travis, was also forced out of CISA on Tuesday night, according to CyberScoop. His resignation makes Brandon Wales, CISA’s executive director, the acting head of the agency.

What’s next for CISA? According to a tweet on the agency’s second anniversary earlier this month, the group pledged to “work tirelessly to defend against today’s threats and ensure a more secure and resilient infrastructure for the future.” The agency voiced its thanks for public and private partners for their collaboration around critical infrastructure security.