The Biden administration is building out a nascent White House office for strengthening federal cybersecurity policy and strategy by hiring a prominent Microsoft executive and a former CIA official, multiple people familiar with the matter told CNN.
They are some of the biggest hires yet for the Office of the National Cyber Director, which was established by law in 2021 in the face of persistent criminal and state-backed cyber threats to US critical infrastructure. The hires come as US officials continue to be wary of potential Russian hacking threats to US organizations stemming from the war in Ukraine.
Kemba Eneas Walden, who led a Microsoft program to counter ransomware, will serve as principal deputy national cyber director, the administration is set to announce on Tuesday. Walden will be the “linchpin” for the office and will work closely with National Cyber Director Chris Inglis, a source familiar with the announcement told CNN.
Neal Higgins, who was most recently a senior CIA official focused on cybersecurity and open-source collection, and Rob Knake, a veteran of cyber policy teams in the Obama administration, have also joined the cyber office in senior roles, officials will announce.
The Office of the National Cyber Director is meant to bring coherence to how the federal government responds to major hacks. It’s also charged with keeping a close eye on how agencies manage their cyber defenses in the face of an array of threats from nation-state adversaries and criminal groups.
The Biden administration faced multiple cybersecurity crises in its first year, including the aftermath of the Russian hacking operation that exploited SolarWinds software to infiltrate at least nine federal agencies, and a ransomware attack that hobbled a large US pipeline operator for days.
Walden will become one of the highest-ranking Black officials focused on cybersecurity issues in the Biden administration – representation that experts say is important as the cybersecurity industry grapples with a lack of diversity in its ranks.
The new personnel will “accelerate our efforts to protect Americans in cyberspace,” Inglis, who is the principal adviser to President Joe Biden on cyber policy and strategy, said in a statement.