Destructive Cyber Attacks, the NSA and Personal Privacy

What I think we really need to be concerned about is when these transition from disruptive to destructive attacks — and I think those are coming.” Gen. Keith B. Alexander (Director of the NSA and commander of US Cybercomand) said at the American Enterprise Institute on Monday.

The US is the largest user of online technology and as Gen Alexander said, “we are the most vulnerable and we need to do something about it.

But as concerns of terrorists attacks and cyber attacks that could affect public infrastructure flood the media, many are concerned that civil liberties will be effected. In March, had an article on the NSA’s new $2 Billion dollar “Data Center”.

According to the article:

Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.”

If the NSA is gathering all of this information, is public privacy at risk, and why does the NSA need all of this information?

“If the critical infrastructure community is being attacked by something, we need them to tell us at network speed,” the General said. “It doesn’t require the government to read their mail or your mail to do that. It requires them — the Internet service provider or that company — to tell us that that type of event is going on at this time. And it has to be at network speed if you’re going to stop it.”

The government is not interested in reading our e-mail sent to our great grandma, nor our FarmVille usage. They are looking for attack signatures – “We’re not talking about giving our personal e-mails to the government.” The agency wants only attack signatures and IP addresses. “It doesn’t require reading the e-mail,” Gen. Alexander said.

And according to his speech, the NSA does not even store civilian messages:

We don’t hold data on U.S. citizens,” he said. He said his agency does not have the resources to deal with the estimated 30 trillion e-mails sent every year and that it is focused on gathering foreign intelligence. “That’s what NSA does“.

But many are still concerned, especially with numerous government agencies involved with fighting cyber threats. Agencies that include the NSA, FBI, and the Department of Homeland security. Add this to the ever increasing volume of cyber threats and it would seem that the concerns are very much warranted.

Rest assured though, Gen. Alexander is well aware of this and feels that the US can protect both our personal privacy and our critical infrastructure – “We can protect civil liberties and privacy, and cybersecurity.”

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