Kemba Walden lists three current positions on her White House biography: Acting Director of the Office of the National Cyber Director, inaugural member of the Cyber Safety Review Board, and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.
It is a packed schedule for the woman tasked with setting the policies and protocols for protecting the nation from cyberattack.
“What motivates me now?” Walden asks, answering one question with another. “I am making an impact. I am a mission-oriented person. That’s one of the reasons why I love public service. And it doesn’t matter where I go or what I do, I always find the mission in the work.”
Walden, a graduate of Hampton University, Princeton University, and Georgetown Law, was Principal Deputy National Cyber Director when she was named Acting Director in February 2023—the first woman to lead the agency and one of the highest-ranking African Americans in the Biden administration. Within five months, her office released a new National Cybersecurity Strategy (replacing the 2018 report) and the inaugural National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy.
“She is really involved, and connected, and supportive of what we are doing,” says Frederic Lemieux, faculty director of the Master’s in Cybersecurity Risk Management program, where Walden teaches Information Security Law & Regulatory Compliance (after a 12-block walk to the Center City campus from the White House). “She would have all the reasons in the world to say, ‘I don’t have time for this,’ but she finds the time, she makes the time, and she’s involved.”
And what does she bring to the program?
“I would say the major plus is the incredible insights she brings to the class” in terms of her unique experience at the top levels of industry and government, Lemieux says. “And that is something that probably no other program in cybersecurity has.”
A New Strategy
Consider Walden’s goals for her office and the nation, and her teaching at Georgetown—including in the summer high school program in cybersecurity—makes perfect sense.
In a recent interview and in a speech at the DEF CON hacker conference in Las Vegas, Walden outlined her office’s plans for the National Cybersecurity Strategy.
“We were novel in developing this strategy,” she says. “We decided that we were going to pursue something affirmative this time rather than sort of chasing after bad actors and having them define our agenda.”
The question became: “How do we want to build a defensible, resilient, digital ecosystem that’s aligned with our values?” A major problem, Walden says, is that “cyber risk and response has now devolved down to the least capable actors,” so that even children playing a video game at home could conceivably click on an interesting link and precipitate a national cyber crisis.
An Emphasis on Education
That must be reversed, she says, so that those in business, government and industry who are most capable and knowledgeable about cyber security are back in charge. She says this will require enhanced digital education, both in a general way for the public, and in a more concentrated (and evolving) way for those specializing in cybersecurity.
That’s where Georgetown comes in. There are hundreds of thousands of vacant cybersecurity jobs in America today at various levels. Many of them do not require a college education, Walden says, but others involve college, graduate school, and more. And that’s one reason why she teaches in the Cybersecurity Risk Management program.
“Yes, I’m busy,” she says. “And being the national cyber director is what I do, and I do it every day. But teaching—this stuff feeds my soul, it makes me a better lawyer, a better policy leader, a better community leader. It feeds my soul because our Georgetown students are innovative. They’re creative. They’re curious. And they challenge me in all the right ways. I think that helps me stay sharp. And, hopefully, they are learning something from me along the way.”