Nobody’s Securing America

Posted by K R on

When people I know who aren’t involved in information security think of the National Security Agency (NSA), they usually think of a secretive organization whose mandate is to spy on digital communication within and outside of the U.S. in the name of national security. The Snowden leaks, Glenn Greenwald’s obsessive reporting and wall-to-wall coverage by (though sometimes reluctant) mainstream media organizations have resulted in a mostly uncontested shared picture of the NSA’s work, though opinions on the legality, morality and efficacy of its efforts remain divided, to say the least.

This common picture of the NSA as the warden of the digital Panopticon is, however, woefully incomplete. Like a poor, single mother abandoned by the United States’ broken social security system, the NSA works two jobs. Unfortunately, unlike our hypothetical parent, the NSA does not put a good-faith, conscientious effort into both its jobs to the material detriment of other organs of the U.S. government, private corporations and, ultimately, the American people.

Most people don’t know that until as recently as two weeks ago, the NSA was divided into two parts — the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) directorate (SID) and the Information Assurance directorate (IAD). The SIGINT directorate does all of the spying that people expect the NSA to be doing. The Information Assurance Directorate has a much less well-known mission — it aims to improve the security of digital information and networks controlled by U.S. entities, both public and private, from adversaries at home and abroad. Through its relationship with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the IAD is tasked with providing assistance on the establishment of cryptographic standards for this purpose — indeed, the NIST is required to consult with the NSA on any new cryptographic standard being considered.

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