Cyber-attack Threat Justifies NSA Vigilance

Cyber-attacks on U.S. interests and infrastructure are on the increase, and we need all the expertise we can get--including the full resources of the National Security Agency.

The United States is under attack. Right now most of the attacks are against the commercial interests of the United States, much like the attacks against Google earlier this year in which the Chinese government attempted to breach the company's security to steal source code and to learn the identities of human rights activists.

But those attacks are expanding to cover a wide variety of government and private interests outside of China and other nations with similar aims. The problem, in fact, has reached the point where radio ads for cyber-security services are beginning to crowd off the ads for airborne tankers and fighter jets that usually populate the airwaves here in Washington.

Yes, I know that it's kind of a stretch to gauge any trend by the frequency of advertising in D.C., but like anything else, if a need is perceived, there will be money to be spent. Here in Washington, we get a constant barrage of ads on the radio, on bus signs and in the newspaper for everything from armored personnel carriers and warships to fighter jets and missile systems. But now the focus is changing to cyber-security.

There's a good reason for the change in emphasis. The Obama administration has begun to make cyber-security a priority, the National Security Agency has been working on the problem for many years, and in fact has been conducting tests of cyber-security readiness. It also has been giving awards to security professionals for their work in the area. Meanwhile, the head of the NSA, Lt. General Keith Alexander, has told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he's going to work to protect the rights of Americans against cyber-criminals.

According to Brian Prince's story in eWEEK, the NSA is developing a program to monitor attempts to attack interests in the United States. The story quotes the Wall Street Journal as saying that a number of government networks, as well as some private networks, would be outfitted with sensors to detect attacks. The story also quotes the Journal as saying there are those who believe that the NSA is going too far and that this could be an attempt by the agency to gather more information on American citizens.

The fact is that if such a program to monitor critical infrastructure for signs of cyber-attacks actually exists, then the biggest concern should be whether it goes far enough. Much of the infrastructure in the United States that the NSA is allegedly going to monitor has been in existence for decades. Some, such as the national power grid, consist of components that were never designed for computer control when they were built, but now depend on such control to remain operational.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...