ClearanceJobs chatted with Beau Woods from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) about how he decided to join CISA and his work this past year on the COVID Task Force.

Exciting Time To Be Part of the Cyber World

CISA is the youngest federal agency, and it’s an exciting time to be a part of CISA as they develop who they are after just being stood up in 2018. In the broader ecosystem, CISA is one of the most technical agencies within the U.S. federal government, and as the agency continues to engage with the technical communities outside of CISA, other federal agencies will follow. Bringing in talent from technical communities improves the federal government’s ability to be more agile in order to keep driving innovation forward. 

Woods’ extensive background in information security and cybersecurity, as well as his experience working in health care settings made him a prime candidate for the COVID Task Force at CISA. He’s also a part of a grassroots, all volunteer initiative that all started with the realization that our collective dependence on connected technology has grown much faster than our ability to secure it – especially in areas impacting human life and public safety.

Woods explained, “As passionate, technically literate members of the hacker community, we saw that there were looming issues that our skillset was ideally poised to address in a technical matter, but we lacked some of the other capabilities and skill sets within our community to be able to do something about it. If you look at technical vulnerabilities — security issues that could cause harm on a wide scale — while we may know the ways to avert those disasters, we weren’t great at getting communication to company executives, foreign entities, or government officials where the decision makers were – where they could take action to allow us to maintain the safety and security of the lifestyle that we all want to lead.”

The idea brought together hundreds of people from the hacker community to engage with automotive, health care, FDA, and other sectors on guidance and requirements because old regulations crafted in the 1970’s are in serious need of an upgrade with all the new technology.

Woods points out the security tradeoffs that often happen and the challenges of that mindset in health care. He says, “You’re trading security for saving lives, and they shouldn’t be at odds. They should support each other. But oftentimes, the way that we practice them, they end up being in contrast with each other.”

The COVID Task force

The COVID Task Force came about during the global pandemic as part of Operation Warp Speed. This initiative had a whole government, whole of society approach to supporting the 30 most critical organizations as part of vaccine deployment. As bad actors are trying to steal information and intellectual property, there are also many who want to harm America and our allies. And private sector companies play a role throughout the supply chain.

Assuring health care delivery during a global pandemic required a task force just like CISA stood up for the elections. And as ransomware has skyrocketed this past year, securing hospitals – from medical devices to electronic records – is critical to ensure that lives are not endangered or lost.

When asked what went into his decision to join the COVID Task Force, Woods said, “In some ways, it was an easy choice. Come help serve the nation and have a large pedestal from which to affect the change that we want to see in cybersecurity across the nation and around the world. And in some ways, it was a pandemic, and it meant leaving my private sector, higher paying role behind and going in to serve the government for a year. But what I found in doing the calculus is that this is a pivotal time for cybersecurity in the nation’s history and around the globe. It’s a time where we need all the smart, passionate people that can come in and do something that’s incredibly meaningful. And for me, this type of role spoke to me as providing that purpose, that meaning in something bigger than myself.”

And when it comes to working for CISA, the work is rewarding, and diverse views are welcomed and compensated. 

Woods shared, “I can honestly say that I wake up every morning, and I know that I’m going to make a difference in the world, and that’s a really powerful thing. So, that drew me in. It’s difficult doing something different, going into an environment where you don’t speak the lingo, where you’re unfamiliar with some of the organizational structures, and some of the constructs that exist within, but those are really ‘overcomable’ things.”

CISA: Where Passion and Problem-Solving Converges

CISA is a place where a different view can unlock a new tool or capability. This drive is not only personally satisfying, but also helps the world address emerging cyber threats.

One of Woods’ favorite memories is from this past year when a private sector partner sounded the alarm on the precursors of ransomware detected for a hospital. Buy-in and support from these types of private sector partners can save lives, because it enables the team to connect with the right people and avert a cyber crisis. Woods also shared another example from getting the COVID vaccines out to states and hospitals. He said, “We realized that one requirement for these vaccines was cold storage. And at the time, it was ultra-cold storage. So, you know, below minus 80 degrees Celsius, which means that you need ultra-cold storage tools and technology. Many of those, for efficiency and cost reasons are now internet accessible, internet driven, internet connected. I think it took us four days from learning that to putting out the paperwork and getting it printed and stuck to each pallet that went out. Four days to get that through designing the information, getting it cleared through legal, getting it cleared through public relations, and getting it over to the team at operation warp speed.”

The fast turnaround of the team resulted in easy-to-understand, high level information to protect cold storage from cyber and physical threats in order to preserve the vaccine. The impacts to the nation’s health infrastructure are often an afterthought, but cyber and physical concerns in the healthcare system require an engaged and passionate team ready to find and solve problems in order to keep Americans safe.

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