The National Security Agency (NSA) has established a Cybersecurity Directorate that “unifies NSA’s foreign intelligence and cyber defense missions” to more closely align its offensive and defensive operations. The directorate, operating as of October 1, 2019 will help contribute to the NSA’s defensive mission to protect digital systems. It will focus initially on the defense industrial base and weapon security improvement.
The increased focus on cybersecurity comes in the wake of a 56-page report by the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee warning that the United States will see more severe and destructive cyberattacks over the next decade than it has faced up to date. The NSA has been criticized in the past that its threat reports issued to private companies do not provide the up-to-date, real-time information that corporate security teams need to protect themselves. The directorate will work to solve the problem posed by traditional means of notifying organizations that hackers have compromised their systems, as hackers now move much faster through the network.
The director, Anne Neuberger, stated that the mission of the directorate is to “prevent and eradicate threats” and “operationalizing intelligence.” The directorate will also focus on ransomware, threats to U.S. elections, nation-state influence operations, and abuse of online anonymity. Reflecting the fact that, for several years now, cybersecurity has topped terrorism as the top threat to the U.S., the NSA now joins other government agencies that have recently increased their focus on cybersecurity–such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which recently created the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The NSA will also collaborate with the DHS to identify specific vulnerable systems within the banking sector to be monitored by the NSA’s threat detection personnel, among other initiatives. Other partners that the directorate plans to include in its defensive and information-sharing efforts are the Department of Defense, Cyber Command, the acquisition community, U.S. allies, and the private sector. The directorate will contain a nuclear command-and-control office, a critical government networks office dedicated to national security systems, and an office called the “futures organization,” which will partner with the NSA’s research directorate to ensure the agency’s cyber goals align with emerging research.