Information as Battlespace

At the last National Information Systems Security Conference, Lt.

General Michael Hayden, director of the National Security Agency and

chief of the Central Security Service, made some interesting and

thought-provoking remarks in a keynote address.

Titled "The Evolution of Information Assurance: Transformation of the

NSA's Information Assurance Mission," the address featured comments

that I hope readers will be able to use to sensitize their colleagues,

and especially upper management, to how serious information security

has become in our networked society.

According to the speaker, the agency's thought processes have been

evolving. They started historically with communications security,

looking almost exclusively at military systems. Next, they moved to

information security, and the focus moved from output to outcome. They

then expanded their view to emphasize information assurance, detecting

and reacting to attacks against our information systems.

The agency's current mantra is that it must gain, exploit, defend and

attack information. Information has become a battlespace, just like

land, sea and air. The NSA now offers a number of services, including

evaluation or assessment, and research and development in

identification and authentication, such as biometrics. However, the NSA

is no longer the main provider or center of security research and

development; it is cooperating with the private sector.

In the past, military IT security specialists used the notion of a

perimeter defense; today, however, we operate on a network of networks.

During the air war over Kosovo and Serbia, our information for that

operation resided and traveled over the same global network as that of

our enemies. Adversaries are therefore no longer nation-states alone;

we are also threatened by malicious (and even nonmalicious) hackers.

What would an American response to an information-operations attack

involve? It could be a passive defense, just recovering from the

damage, or we could involve law enforcement. But military strategists

can also envisage a counterattack, either by physical attack or

cyberattack. In such a situation, communications security and signals

intelligence become blended and blurred.

The military can't respond effectively to cyberattack without

cooperation with the private sector. The U.S. Air Force, in one sense,

is the security expression of the civilian aircraft industry.

Similarly, the NSA may be developing into the security expression of

the civilian telecommunications industry. We have already seen how the

Commercial COMSEC Evaluation Program has been useful; the National

Information Assurance Partnership (NIAP) is a partnership with other

federal government agencies; and the Common Criteria program involves

partnership with foreign governments.

The NSA sees information assurance as the methods that ensure continued

operations under attack, and effective recovery after attack. The

reality is that foreign governments do not generally have effective

laws for prosecuting harmful acts, such as the distribution of the Love


Those in government and the military necessarily depend on the civilian

infrastructure, but commercial product feature expansion does not

provide adequate, information assurance.

Technology and tools can help us be more efficient and effective;

nonetheless, effectiveness depends on people. Every leader must

recognize the strategic value of information and internalize and

realize that value and the need for protection. Information security is

a 24-7 process. Information security is something we do, not something

we buy.

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