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The U.S. Intelligence community now assumes hostile hackers, like Chinese intelligence agency officials, will eventually gain access to U.S. systems. It's now focused on blocking their beachhead, preventing it from gaining important information  (Source: AP)
Keeping enemies out is no longer good enough to protect our nation's networks

At a cyber security forum sponsored by the Atlantic and Government Executive media organizations, visitors detected a decided shift in U.S. intelligence policy.  Where the community had longed focused on keeping out unwanted intruders, the new assumption was that these efforts would eventually fail.  And the new focus appears to be on minimizing the damage when they do fail.

The director of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) Information Assurance Directorate, Debora Plunkett, addressed reports, stating:

There's no such thing as 'secure' any more.  The most sophisticated adversaries are going to go unnoticed on our networks.  We have to build our systems on the assumption that adversaries will get in.  We have to, again, assume that all the components of our system are not safe, and make sure we're adjusting accordingly.

Mike McConnell, a retired Navy vice admiral and former NSA chief from 1992 to 1996 concurred, stating, "[There is not a major computer system of consequence] that is not penetrated by some adversary that allows the adversary, the outsider, to bleed all the information at will."

Many might suspect the source of the policy shift is the recent leak by a disgruntled Army specialist, Bradley Manning, who spilled hundreds of thousands of classified documents to a foreign news site run by a self-proclaimed anarchist.  While the damaging effects of that incident certainly played a role, it is far from the only reason for the shift.

The U.S. has been under increasing attack digitally from foreign intelligence agencies, including China and North Korea.  Foreign spies have infiltrated defense contractors, and retrieved information from lost U.S. government hardware.  Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, in the September/October issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, estimated that at least 100 foreign intelligence agencies are trying, night and day, to hack into U.S. government systems.  He says that many of these agencies have the sophistication to succeed, at least some of the time, in their plots.

For the NSA, which is tasked both with intercepting foreign communications and protecting those of our nation, the shift in mentality is crucial.  The agency indicates that it has transitioned from trying merely to stop intruders from entering systems to limiting and monitoring access when such intruders do get in.

If the recent forum was any indication, the U.S. intelligence agencies have conceded that hostile parties will likely establish beachheads on crucial systems in the coming decades of cyberwarfare.  The key battle will be to prevent them from moving inland and capturing valuable documents or messages.

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RE: I've always wondered...
By MindParadox on 12/17/2010 11:50:15 AM , Rating: 4
that works fine if the only people who will EVER need that information all have access to that computer anytime they might need it

in any other more realistic situation, that simply doesnt work

RE: I've always wondered...
By jimhsu on 12/17/2010 12:08:18 PM , Rating: 3
Indeed things that are actually national security issues (power plants, nuclear weapon designs) are not kept on any accessible network. Things below that (Secret to Confidential) make it onto SIPRnet ( ) which the recent wikileaks news has made familiar to a much broader audience. In both of these cases stuff doesn't make it onto the public internet unless it was intentionally posted there; in that case you have other problems to deal with (your employees).

RE: I've always wondered...
By bah12 on 12/17/2010 12:55:29 PM , Rating: 2
quote: that case you have other problems to deal with (your employees).
Correct it is not that a public facing system can never be secure, just that a public facing system can't be secure if a fallible human presence is involved.

I've always preached that computers cannot make a mistake, there is always a human somewhere responsible for the problem. It could be as simple as the employee with 1234 as their password, or as complex as the engineer that missed the security hole in the firewall firmware they wrote. Either way somewhere in the chain a person screwed up, even if that screw up was the inability to imagine the threat and program against it.

RE: I've always wondered...
By foolsgambit11 on 12/17/2010 2:45:30 PM , Rating: 2
There is a possibility that a sophisticated enemy could get into SIPRNet. It may be a 'secure network', separate from the internet, but it is still a worldwide network, including satellite relays and other snoop-able links. With the right equipment and the right knowledge, an enemy could gain access to the network. The same goes for other, even more classified networks (JWICS, NSANet, etc.).

While all of these networks are pretty well protected from intrusion, it is still safer to take a stance that they will be breached, and be prepared.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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