Addressing challenges to the federal government's cybersecurity efforts, the head of the National Security Agency (NSA) said that teamwork, global leadership, and a respect for citizens' privacy are necessary to secure U.S. critical infrastructure against cyber attacks.
There are 250,000 probes trying to find their way into Department of Defense (DoD) networks every hour, and cyber attacks on federal agencies have increased 150% since 2008, Gen. Keith Alexander, NSA director and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, said Tuesday at the Gov 2.0 Summit at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, produced by O'Reilly Media and UBM TechWeb.
The federal government has the potential to drastically reduce and prevent these attacks, but not unless the various agencies charged with cybersecurity tasks work together both at home and on a global scale.
"The United States has been a world leader in the development of technology and the growth of the internet," Alexander said. "We made the internet, it seems to me that we ought to be the folks to be the first to go out there and secure it. Given the intellectual capital required to do that, it stands to reason that if we pool our resources we can effectively safeguard all our nation's equities in cyberspace."
Government agencies have been criticized by the federal government's own watchdog agency, the General Accountability Office (GAO), for their lack of coordination when it comes to cybersecurity. In a report released in August, GAO said that because of the number of federal organizations involved in shaping cybersecurity policy and processes, the United States still is not presenting a united front to the world on the issue.
Multiple U.S. agencies -- including the NSA and the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State -- have a hand in directing international standards, cyber-defense policy, and facilitating overseas investigation and law enforcement when it comes to cybersecurity.
Until the U.S. presents a united front on all of these issues, it can't assume a leadership position globally, the GAO said.
Alexander also addressed privacy in regards to cybersecurity, another challenge to federal efforts and a major concern, particularly as the government partners with private companies that own most of the critical infrastructure that needs to be secured.
The NSA chief assured citizens that his obligation to protecting civil liberties and working with the law to secure cyberspace will "never" be compromised.
"Preserving those rights is not an added-on activity or something we do because we have to," Alexander said. "It is a core tenant the way we conduct our business all around, cyber included."