NSA Knocks Down Wall between Cyber Defense and Offense Divisions

Exactly three years after the US National Security Agency (NSA) created an information security body, its Director Michael Rogers announced on Feb. 9 a comprehensive overhaul, calling it a “true revolution.”
The largest electronic espionage network in the world, operated by 32,000 people across the globe, has embarked on a structural revolution. It faces the pressing need to adapt to a rapidly emerging world order, in which enemies quickly reinvent themselves, the balance of power is asymmetrical and virtually unlimited cyber warfare resources are available to rivals and enemies.
To keep up, foreign governments, hostile armies and rival security bodies find they need to employ dangerous hackers, some still in their teens, and cater to their motives, whether ideological, religious or financial.
The NSA is meeting these new exigencies by a radical overhaul of its archaic pre-digital age structure of two separate cyber divisions, one responsible for attacking enemy systems and the other for information security.
NSA Director Rogers put it this way: “This traditional approach we have, where we created these two cylinders of excellence and then built walls of granite between them really is not the way for us to do business."
In order to face the most dangerous current security threat to the US, those “walls of granite” are being knocked down. And, because offensive and defense efforts have many similarities, they are pooling their forces, resources and abilities for their mutual benefit.
Thus, the traditional organizational structure, in which the signal intelligence divisions responsible for foreign espionage, and the information security divisions responsible for protecting the computer infrastructure, will be replaced by a combined division dealing with both offensive and defensive operations .
Congressman Adam Schiff said, “When it comes to cyber in particular, the line between collection capabilities and our own vulnerabilities — between the acquisition of signals intelligence and the assurance of our own information — is virtually nonexistent,” he said, adding “What is a vulnerability to be patched at home is often a potential collection opportunity abroad and vice versa.”
However, DEBKA Weekly’s cyber expert points out that the new merger also has some shortcomings:
1. A “cultural” gap of thought patterns, experience and commitment exists between personnel dealing in cyber defense and those engaged in attacking enemy systems.
2. Cyber defense units are exposed to public notice by their cooperation with civilian research, development and production bodies, unlike SIGINT units which conduct secret operations.
3. NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate is in daily contact with the civilian cyber industry and media. The excessive exposure and unsupervised use of information available to civilians is problematic – as the case of Edward Snowdon demonstrated – and may even compromise critical intelligence cooperation.
4. The excessive concentration of intelligence information in the hands of individuals or government agencies raises increasing concern in democratic societies.
In his annual report to the Senate, the top US intelligence director James Clapper noted this week:
“Advances in the capabilities of many countries to exploit large data sets almost certainly increase the intelligence value of collecting bulk data and have probably contributed to increased targeting of personally identifiable information.

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