Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency/Chief Central Security Service, used his keynote presentation at the RSA Conference on Tuesday to dispel rumors that the NSA seeks to be in charge of cybersecurity in the United States.
Several times, Alexander, who has been at the NSA for nearly four years, spoke of the vital importance of teamwork to deter cybercrime and to protect the nation's infrastructure.
“The NSA does not want to run cybersecurity for the government,” he told the crowd of security professionals. “We need partnerships with others. The DHS has a big part, you do, and our partners in academia. It's one network and we all have to work together.”
To illustrate his theme, Alexander spoke of the Enigma Machine used by the Germans to send encrypted messages during World War II. Once the code was broken by the Allies, the tide of the war changed, he said. It was a team effort with many departments, and nations, working together.
This, he said, was the model from which codemakers and codebreakers continued the work of discovering adversaries' secrets when the NSA was established in 1952. It was, he said, the beginning of information assurance.
Bringing the evolution of network connectivity into the modern age, Alexander praised new technologies and devices that enable efficient communication. But, he pointed out, there are concerns.
“Our government and all of industry are all on one network, which is great, but there are tremendous vulnerabilities.”
Using a number of statistics, he set out some of the challenges: 210 billion emails a day, two million emails sent every hour, terrorist groups active on 4,000 websites, 32,000 suspected cyberattacks every 24 hours, and more than 100 foreign intelligence organizations trying to break into U.S. systems daily.
“The government is here to protect the country from adversaries,” he said.
To achieve that goal he outlined a few strategies: Build a team to protect classified and national security networks; learn to protect against highest threats; share lessons learned, technology and training with DHS; and be prepared to help protect the nation during key events.
“The NSA can offer technology assistance to team members,” Alexander said. “That's our role.”
Here he again stressed the need for team building and singled out Melissa Hathaway, speaking Wednesday, and her team for reaching out to industry.
“The greatest generation broke the Enigma Code,” he said. “What they did gives us great insights into what we now need to do. When they worked together, it was better than divisions working separately. Today, we have great tools on the internet. All the stuff we have is superb. But we need to secure it. We're there to work with you as a team.”