Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Congress Urged to Allow National Security Agency to Monitor Public Networks for Malicious Activity

Wired - Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden revived a controversial meme on Tuesday when he urged Congress to allow his former agency to monitor public networks in order to defend against malicious activity coming from nation-states and others.

“We’ve got capability on the sidelines wanting policy guidance,” he told the House Intelligence Committee, referring to the NSA. “And when we can enrich that guidance and get them in the field, the better – the safer – we are.”

Hayden’s remarks echoed what Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair told the same committee in 2009 when he said that the NSA, rather than the Department of Homeland Security, which currently oversees cybersecurity issues on government networks and liaisons with the public sector about securing critical infrastructure networks, was the only agency with the skills needed to secure cyberspace.

“The National Security Agency has the greatest repository of cyber talent,” Blair said. “[T]here are some wizards out there at Fort Meade who can do stuff.”

The NSA’s role in the Bush Administration’s secret and warrantless domestic spying program, however, has raised concerns among civil libertarians that the agency couldn’t be trusted to monitor networks without violating the privacy of citizens.

Hayden acknowledged to lawmakers that there was “a natural political cultural allergy to letting NSA” monitor private networks, but he said there were ways the spy agency could do so without reading the content of communications or otherwise intruding on the civil liberties of private citizens.

“We want NSA to protect us, but we don’t want NSA out there being present where our own communications are flowing,” he said. “And we’re just going to have to have a serious chat [about that]. I think we can do that – both the technology and the ethic at NSA would allow us to do that. But it will require some convincing before the agency is given that authority.”

Hayden also said there were still some people who didn’t have a proper appreciation of the threat the U.S. was facing from foreign attackers. Speaking about recent spates of attacks on U.S. companies and government agencies that appeared to come from China, Hayden said that “as a professional intelligence officer, I step back in awe at the breadth, depth, sophistication and persistence of the Chinese espionage effort against the United States of America.”

Also appearing before the committee on Tuesday was Art Coviello, executive chairman of RSA Security, which was targeted in a serious attack earlier this year that forced the company to re-issue security tokens to customers after intruders compromised a system used to generate secret codes for RSA SecurID tokens.                  More