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Chris I., The Cyber Guy- POLITICO | #emailsecurity | #phishing | #hacking | #aihp

Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With help from Allie Bice. 

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When CHRISTOPHER INGLIS was confirmed as the country’s first ever national cyber director, he knew he faced a difficult task in setting up an entirely new government office. What he didn’t quite appreciate was that he would literally need an office.

Inglis’ team currently consists of roughly 50 new people. And finding actual space for them was a complicated matter of internal politicking.

“Turns out that the spaces we’re in were occupied by other people,” Inglis said. “For every gain, there’s got to be some kind of loss.”

The job of putting down actual, physical roots remains incomplete. The new office is currently divided between three different locations. Inglis and his front office staffers work from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Some staff are temporarily working from a “swing space” at 18th and G Street in northwest D.C. And about 25 to 30 people are in a townhouse close to the White House on Jackson Place. Inglis also said he expects the office to roughly double over the next year.

The search for office space is indicative of the challenges that Inglis has faced more broadly since his Senate confirmation in June 2021. A veteran of the National Security Agency who rose to become deputy director, he has been tasked with tackling one of the major threats to America’s security and infrastructure while operating in an administration where policy turf is fiercely contested.

“We are the newest agency within the federal enterprise,” he explained, the key word being “within.”

In addition to not starting his job until five months into the administration, Inglis didn’t even have his full funding until November.

“We showed up a little bit late in the stand-up of this administration and that was a challenge, right – first impressions matter,” he said. “We had to crack that nut beginning in July of 2021.”

That also led to some delicate turf tug-of-war with ANNE NEUBERGER, the deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology who worked with Inglis at the NSA in the past. “There’s some things we need to reconcile,” he conceded. “We’ve sorted that out such that we have a highly complementary set of roles.”

Those roles, in the end, come back to the same objective: enhancing America’s cybersecurity. It’s an area where, Inglis says, the U.S. is suffering from “decades of deficit.” In his mind, the nightmare scenario is “a repeat of Colonial Pipeline,” when hackers breached the largest oil pipeline in the U.S. in the spring of 2021 and the company had to pay millions in ransom money.

“What then happened was an attack on the confidence of the American people up and down the eastern seaboard, who for a moment thought that perhaps they weren’t going to get access to critical resources,” he said. “That is a worst case scenario: an attack on confidence.”

But Inglis’ concerns extend well beyond the nightmare scenarios. He is, for example, not on TikTok and thinks you should be careful before you join the Chinese-owned platform.

“Caveat emptor in terms of the use of that,” he said, the Latin phrase for “buyer beware.”

The country’s cybersecurity director is, at his heart, a wary internet user. “Do I really need to do all of these things on the internet? Do I really need to store–I don’t–passwords on the internet? Do I really need to make my financial transactions on the internet?” he said.

“If I do a financial transaction on the internet, which I do, I will then ensure that within 24 hours I follow up to ensure that it’s posted the way I expected it to post.”

As he put it: “I bring a renewed sense of positive skepticism to the task of making use of the internet.”

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