NSA Document: Cyber attacks are asymmetric weapons and significant future threat to U.S.

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NSA’s new data center in Utah. Agency says cyber attacks pose a significant threat.

A highly classified National Security Agency strategy report reveals that foreign cyber attacks against the United States are an asymmetric weapon and one of the most significant threats facing the country.
“Cyberattacks offer a means for potential adversaries to overcome overwhelming U.S. advantages in conventional military power and to do so in ways that are instantaneously and exceedingly hard to trace,” states the strategy document outlining signals intelligence goals for 2012 to 2016.
“Such attacks may not cause the mass casualties of a nuclear strike, but they could paralyze U.S. society all the same,” the document, labeled “Top Secret,” says.
The NSA document, “SIGINT Strategy 2012-2016,” is the latest disclosure from the stolen NSA document cache stolen by former contractor Edward Snowden who along with several left-wing journalists is seeking to weaken U.S. national security, generally, and intelligence agencies, specifically.
The document is significant because it reveals the pivotal role played by NSA, the Fort Meade, Md.-based intelligence service, in the information age.
According to NSA, the international geopolitical system set up after World War II will be “almost unrecognizable by 2025” as the result of emerging powers like China, the global economy and what NSA calls the “historic transfer of relative wealth and economic power from West to East, and the growing influence of non-state actors.”
The agency’s goal for the coming years is to assure that signals intelligence activities provide the decisive edge in promoting all U.S. national security interests.
In defending U.S. interests, NSA will use its intelligence forces to “access and unlock the secrets of our adversaries.”
Throughout its history, NSA has provided senior government and military leaders with “sustained deep and persistent access to all manner of adversaries.”
In the information age transforms the “target space” for NSA digital spies adapted and using innovation and creativity are now calling the current period the “golden age of SIGINT.”
To remain the premier spy agency, NSA has set course to proactively “dominate” the electronic space through new ways of stealing secrets.
The sheer volume of digital data that NSA is seeking to sifted and exploit is enormous, totaling 1.8 exabytes in 2011 – or 1.8 quintillion bytes of information, an enormous quantity.
“Ubiquitous computing is fundamentally changing how people interact as individuals become untethered from information sources and their communications tools; and the traces individuals leave when they interact with the global network will define the capacity to locate, characterize and understand entities,” the report says.
Additionally, information is moving extremely rapidly and its power has a short shelf life. As a result, “existing investments in cyber security will by necessity expand across the enterprise to meet the demand and speed of action required to thwart our adversaries,” the report said.
“To remain a value for the warfighter our information must be immediately available at the lowest classification level,” NSA said.
Also, NSA’s code-breaking capabilities will grow as the use of encryption become automatic, transparent and widely used.
And contrary to its detractors, NSA states in the document that it must continue to build the trust of the American people through its “culture of compliance” with laws and regulations. However, the agency also stated that it needs new legal authorities and policies better suited to the information age.
For the information age, NSA is shifting from a mission approach targeting specific regions, states and non-state groups to “a SIGINT system that is as agile and dynamic as the information space we confront.”
For the five years from 2012 to 2016, NSA outlined five goals to “close gaps” in its capabilities and activities.
They include a revolution in analysis from “a production to a discovery bias” – using advanced tradecrafts, original analysis more reflective of how people operate online; and better dissemination.
For its sigint targets, NSA will work with partners to discover new targets, find the weaknesses and overcome network and communication defenses.
NSA also will continue to invest in high performance computing that is the key to its preeminent code breaking.
For foreign adversaries, like China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and others, NSA has set a key goal: “Defeat adversary cyber security practices in order to acquire the SIGINT data we need from anyone, anytime, anywhere.”
Also, NSA will “dynamically integrate endpoint, midpoint, industrial-enabled, and cryptanalytic capabilities to reach previously inaccessible targets in support of exploitation, cyber defense, and cyber
operations.”
Among its key goals is to integrate NSA surveillance and collection capabilities into “a national network of sensors which interactively sense, respond, and alert one another at machine speed.”

— Bill Gertz
Nov. 23, 2013

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