NSA Re-Focuses on Securing Military Weapon Systems Against “Capable” Rivals – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

NSA Headquarters at Night (Trevor Paglen)

WASHINGTON: The chief cybersecurity directorate of the National Security Agency has said that one of his agency’s top priorities is to protect US weapons systems from cyber threats, which represents a shift in focus brought about by the rise of an increasingly multipolar world with highly skilled cyber adversaries.

“We have spent the last 20 years in Afghanistan, where our weapon systems were not targeted by the enemy,” because it lacked technical capacity, Rob Joyce of the NSA said on Wednesday at the annual cybersecurity summit. from Billington. “But our close adversaries have the ability to exploit us when we do things wrong,” Joyce continued, referring to China and Russia. Joyce also said Iran and North Korea remain a concern as increasingly capable cyber adversaries.

“In terms of weapon systems, we have computers on the wings, at sea and on land. We don’t think about [weapons systems] that way, but none of them work without a computer, ”Joyce observed.

Indeed, the Department of Defense’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2), viewed by officials as a sort of holy grail for future warfare, is envisioned as a vast network – or an interconnected network of specific networks. service – which will rely on many traditional information technologies. As such, allowing these networks and their components to be compromised would pose a serious threat to the security of combatants and their ability to carry out missions.

The threat is not theoretical and the risk is not abstract, as the military learned last October when it “failed” in a war game against an “aggressive red team” supposed to emulate China. or Russia. This catastrophic exercise prompted the Joint Chiefs of Staff to redouble their efforts to secure cyber and space networks, which link disparate combat systems.

Weapons systems fall under a special category of government information technology called National Security Systems (SSN), which has always been the national priority of the NSA’s cybersecurity efforts. So the shift in focus is not about the historical role and responsibility of the NSA, but rather a recognition that the United States faces more technologically savvy cyber actors who could – and are. probably already – looking for cyber vulnerabilities in these systems.

Joyce said that one aspect of the NSA’s focus on the NSS is going to the defense industrial base “to view end-to-end weapon systems” for security while building them and to treat securing systems not as a one-off task, but rather “knowing they will be constantly threatened”.

Despite their importance, no current authority can issue cybersecurity guidelines for SSN. House version of the National Defense Authorization Act 2022 requires NSA director Gen. Paul Nakasone to identify ‘obstacles’ to creating an authority to issue cyber directives for the NSS.

Currently, the Department of Homeland Security, through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, issues cyber directives for executive agencies. The information network of the Joint Functional Headquarters and the Ministry of Defense issues directives to military and subordinate components. But no authority can currently issue cyber directives for the NSS Special Class, which also includes intelligence systems, classified networks, and networks that host NSA crypto activities. The need for such an authority is not clear, given that in practice the NSA is sufficiently motivated and most likely ahead of other authorities to proactively mitigate cyber vulnerabilities in the NSS under its jurisdiction. .

In addition to protecting weapon systems from cyberattacks, Joyce said other top priorities for the NSA include “understanding the intentions of nation states” and developing next-generation crypto systems that will always protect secrets at home. midpoint of the widely anticipated advent of quantum computing, particularly via quantum post-cryptography.

When it comes to nation states, Joyce said the NSA’s goal is to tackle “large-scale” foreign threats. To do this, Joyce stated that the NSA Cyber ​​Security Collaboration Center has formed successful partnerships with the private sector.

“Bringing in the industry’s big data and combining it with what we know about foreign threats is kind of a chocolate and peanut butter moment,” Joyce said.

This includes, Joyce said, the exploitation of the NSA’s Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities, which he called the NSA’s “secret sauce” – a day after Nakasone called the “superpower” SIGINT NSA.

Joyce also echoed her boss’s comments on ransomware on Tuesday. “Six months ago, a ransomware was viewed [by NSA] primarily as a criminal issue, ”Joyce said. Given recent events, he added, this is no longer the case.

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