NSA Launches New Cybersecurity Directorate

NSA is redefining its cybersecurity mission and with the Cybersecurity Directorate it will enhance its partnerships with unclassified collaboration and information sharing.

Under the new Cybersecurity Directorate — a major organization that unifies NSA’s foreign intelligence and cyberdefense missions

The NSA announced the new Cybersecurity Directorate — which will help defend domestic organizations from foreign cyberattacks.

The NSA announced the new Cybersecurity Directorate — which will help defend domestic organizations from foreign cyberattacks — in a short press release. The NSA, sometimes called by its nickname, “No Such Agency,” is known for being secretive. But this new directorate seems to signal a pivot towards a more public approach to security than the Agency has taken in the past.

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The directorate also reflects a change in the importance of national cybersecurity and provides a hint as to how government agencies are rethinking how cybersecurity divisions should be organized.

The NSA Makes Cyberdefense a Top Priority

The directorate will unify the NSA’s current foreign intelligence and cyberdefense operations, bringing them together in a “major organization” designed to defend domestic organizations against foreign cyberattacks. The NSA expects the directorate to “reinvigorate NSA’s white hat mission” by seeing the Agency turn towards providing partners and “customers” with threat information, and by otherwise equipping them against cyberattacks.

The directorate will have NSA turn its efforts towards securing military and defense industry security. A short, NSA-produced video at the end of the press release provided more information about what threats the NSA expects to defend the public from — including attacks on infrastructure, theft of classified information, and “mass deception of the public.”

The pivot comes at a time where the nation is facing several security crises and reasonable fears that almost anything that runs on a computer — banks, voting machines, and critical infrastructure — can be compromised or damaged by cyberattacks.

The launch of the new directorate — and the focus of the press release on cyberdefense — follows comments made by Glenn Gerstell, chief counsel of the NSA, back in September. At that time, Gerstell said that the NSA wouldn’t “hack back” in the case of a cyberattack and that the Agency was instead focused on defending key information and infrastructure from theft or damage by foreign actors.

The directorate is not the Agency’s first foray into providing private domestic organizations with intel about foreign hackers. In 2011, as the financial sector was still recovering from the financial crisis of 2008, the Agency began providing Wall Street banks with cybersecurity information in the hopes that it would prevent “financial sabotage.”

The State of Cybersecurity

The directorate reflects a broader change that’s also being seen in the private sector. Cybersecurity is no longer seen as a sub-component of an overall security plan, or as part of the tech department, but as a necessary investment that requires top talent and serious commitment of resources. Networks are more likely to be considered vulnerable and need better defense from cyberattacks.

Businesses are increasingly relying on Internet of Things or “smart” devices to provide data. But these devices are often improperly secured and allow an access point to secure networks, and the valuable information held there. As the world becomes more connected, there are more opportunities for hackers to slip in between the cracks of cyberdefenses and do damage once they have access to secure networks.

In the press release, the NSA said that the Agency will “invest in and rely on its expert workforce.” It’s not clear right now if the new directorate will result in the NSA expanding its cybersecurity workforce. If so, they may run into some of the problems faced by the private sector, in that the number of cybersecurity experts has not kept pace with the frequency of, intensity of, and damage done by cyberattacks.

What the NSA’s Directorate Means for Cybersecurity

The new director shows that cybersecurity is a higher priority than ever for the Agency, and signals a turn to more public involvement in national security. Time will tell how effective the directorate is at preventing or reducing the harm of cyberattacks, but the defense industry is likely happy to receive any help that they can.

Going forward, cybersecurity will continue to become more important as critical infrastructure and essential components of our economy and national defense become more connected. Whether or not the cybersecurity industry will be able to keep up with the rising pace of attacks remains to be seen.

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