WASHINGTON– While Congress and the technology community are still debating and discussing the intelligence gathering capabilities of NSA revealed in recent months, the agency’s director, Gen. Keith Alexander, is not just defending the use of these existing tools, but is pitching the idea of sharing some of the vast amounts of threat and vulnerability data the NSA and other agencies possess with organizations in the private sector. Speaking at a time of great scrutiny of the agency and its activities, Alexander said that the NSA, along with other federal agencies such as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and CIA, need to find a way to share the attack and vulnerability information they collect in order to help key private organizations react to emerging threats. Though the idea is still in its formative stages, Alexander said that it potentially could include companies in foreign countries, as well. “We need the authority for us to share with them and them to share with us. But because some of that information is classified, we need a way to protect it,” Alexander said during a keynote speech at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit here Wednesday. “Right now, we can’t see what’s happening in real time. We’ve got to share it with them, and potentially with other countries.” In order to accomplish this real-time information sharing–something that security experts in the government and private sector have been discussing for years–Alexander said legislation is needed to lay out the parameters of the program, what can be shared and how it can be done. Pointing to the spate of DDoS and targeted attacks that have plagues banks in the United States in the last year or so, Alexander said that responding to such large-scale attacks requires “shared situational awareness” to enable the targets and agencies such as NSA and the FBI to share data as the attacks unfold. “The answer is that nobody sees it today. We don’t have that shared situational awareness we need,” he said. “So we’re developing a common operational picture. If we can’t see it, we can’t respond to it. We have to do that at network speed. We have to share what we know about those threats and they have to tell us what they see. This is where Internet service providers are critical, not just here but with our allies.” The fragmentation of cyber threat intelligence inside the government has been an issue for as long as there have been threats. Several agencies now gather huge amounts of threat data, including the NSA, CIA, DHS and military branches. While they may share that data among themselves, little if any of it finds its way into the private sector. Classification rules and other hurdles stand in the way of sharing much of this data, and Alexander said some way must be found to remedy that problem. “We have to work with industry, because we can’t see it. Right now what happens is the attack goes on and we’re brought in after the fact. And I can guarantee you 100 percent of the time we cannot stop an attack after the fact,” Alexander said. “That legislation that we’re pushing for is absolutely important for our country.” Speaking to a crowd of mainly industry and government workers, Alexander appealed to them to help support the information sharing concept and any legislation that may be required to implement it. “We need industry to work with us on cyber legislation,” he said. Alexander added that the NSA has capabilities that other agencies and private organizations don’t that could be of use in ongoing attacks. “We don’t want NSA or Cyber Command doing something irresponsible, but we don’t want to be watching while Wall Street is taken down,” he said.

Categories: Cryptography, Government

Comments (9)

  1. Pete

    Am I crazy or what? Is this person sane or the opposite? Not only they sneak in all aspects of our life but they want to share the stolen data with foreign organisation. What about sharing for example with the organisation of the crime syndicates?

  2. McCain

    Pete, either you and I are both crazy or the general is crazy. Let’s just hope the “industry workers” are less crazy.

    “Speaking to a crowd of mainly industry and government workers, Alexander appealed to them to help support the information sharing concept and any legislation that may be required to implement it.”

    Indeed, “industry and government workers”. I’m sure a Big Brother government is less objectionable if you can be made to feel “included”.

  3. JT Reynolds

    The “trust us” argument simply doesn’t wash. The 4th Amendment says it’s supposed to be hard for the government to get personal information on citizens unless they can convince a judge they have probable cause of a crime. But NSA says, “We’re hunting terrorists, so we don’t need no stinking 4th Amendment.”
    The only real solution is to get a private cloud, like a Cloudlocker (www.cloudlocker.it) that works like a cloud service but stays at home where they still need a warrant to look inside.

  4. Hugo Grotius

    Indeed, the NSA’s Alexander seems not to realize what he has let slip. To wit: the NSA does not understand how to analyze the data it has collected; and that he himself reads Bruce Schneier’s blog. He’s responding to some rather pointed condemnations on it.

    “risk sharing” – huh! We remember “risk sharing” with the banks using derivatives to “share risk” and bring down the economy, don’t we?

    Face it, the foreign “Intelligence Agency” to successfully pwn the NSA will have access to the economically crucial metadata about every American citizen. Way to go, NSA’s Alexander – do a Benedict Arnold modern style!

  5. Greg

    And the move to Fascism is complete:

    Fascism supports a state-controlled economy that accepts a mix of private and public ownership over the means of production. Economic planning is applied to both the public and private sector in a fascist economy, and the prosperity of private enterprise depended on its acceptance of synchronizing itself with the fascist state’s economic goals. It supports the profit motive. However it emphasizes that industries must uphold the national interest as superior to private profit.

  6. Somebody

    It it just me or did this guy just pull of a major bait and switch? Way to take the heat off the question of whether it is ethical to spy on and collect data about everyone. Just give a big speil about the need for information sharing practices. He’s right, that would help combat cybercrime is all the organizations including allies in other countries were on the same page, but I thought the conversation was about the fact that you record my phone calls to Grandma…

  7. none_of_your_business

    Alexanders job is two-fold: get information and protect information. If YOU were given the job of protecting America’s military and government networks, but weren’t allowed to touch networks belonging to critical infrastructure because the law doesn’t let you… what would YOU do? Banks have been under DDoS attack for over a year while we watch it happen. So, are we going to DO something about it?

    Or are we just a bunch of chumps?

  8. Marcus

    Alrighty, as someone who regularly deals with DDoS attacks, I can tell you that a release of the information the NSA collects to private corporations has nothing to do with preventing this type of attack. There are many public (yes, that’s right, you can access them right now)banlists available to add to your website and or internet facing network right now… for free. It does take a bit more effort to be able to add to them (sharing attacking IP addresses so that everyone who uses the service is protected.) An example is http://dronebl.org/ for more, ask your IT guy.
    Since this has nothing to do with the attacks, we should have seen this coming. Once it became known what the NSA has in its possession, it was only a matter of time before corporations tried to buy it. This is the NSA trying to sell all of our personal information, for large profit, to private corporations to use as they see fit. If you’re surprised, welcome to the real world.

  9. socrates

    None_of is right.

    If the NSA gets word of an incipient attack on wall street banks, what should it do? Sit by?

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