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