Defending Cyber Infrastructure

The director of the National Security Agency says the United States must have a transparent debate on how it will protect itself in cyberspace.

(Graphic illustration by Jessica L. Tozer)

(Graphic illustration by Jessica L. Tozer)

“It is a debate that is going to have all the key elements of the executive branch — that’s DHS, FBI, DOD, Cyber Command, NSA, and other partners — with our allies and with industry,” Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander told an audience at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association International Cyber Symposium in Baltimore.

Everyone involved must figure out how to work together as the cyber threat grows, said Alexander, who also commands U.S. Cyber Command.

In August, the Saudi Aramco oil company was hit with a destructive attack that destroyed the data on more than 30,000 systems, he said. In September, distributed denial of service attacks began on the U.S. financial sector, and a few hundred disruptive attacks have occurred since.

In March, destructive cyberattacks took place against South Korea, the general said.

“If you look at the statistics and what’s going on, we’re seeing an increase in the disruptive and destructive attacks. And I am concerned that those will continue,” he said. “As a nation, we must be ready.”

Over the past few years, there has been a convergence of analog and digital data streams, Alexander said. Now, everything is on one network — information sent by terrorists, soldiers and school teachers travels through the same digital pipelines.

The cyber world is experiencing an exponential rate of change, he said. “It’s wonderful,” he added. “These capabilities, I think, are going to help us solve cancer. This is a wonderful opportunity.”

But, he said, cyberspace also has vulnerabilities. “We’re being attacked,” Alexander said. “And we’ve got to figure out how to fix that.”

The key to the nation’s future in cyber is a defensible architecture, he said, embodied for the Defense Department by the Joint Information Environment. In that environment, mobile devices will securely connect with fixed infrastructure across the services in a way that allows the department to audit and take care of its data much better than it could do in the legacy systems, Alexander said.

The need to create one joint integrated cyber force is “a great reason for having NSA and Cyber Command collocated,” Alexander said.

“We can leverage the exceptional talent that the people at NSA have to help build that force,” he added, “and that’s superb.”

By Claudette Roulo,
American Forces Press Service


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