Monday, March 22, 2010

Security Watch: Beware the NSA’s Geek-Spy Complex

Noah Shachtman writes in Wired:

Early this year, the big brains at Google admitted that they had been outsmarted. Along with 33 other companies, the search giant had been the victim of a major hack — an infiltration of international computer networks that even Google couldn’t do a thing about. So the company has reportedly turned to the only place on Earth with a deeper team of geeks than the Googleplex: the National Security Agency.

Most of us know the NSA as the supersecret spook shop that allegedly slurped up our email and phone calls after the September 11 attacks. But NSA headquarters — the “Puzzle Palace” — in Fort Meade, Maryland, is actually home to two different agencies under one roof. There’s the signals-intelligence directorate, the Big Brothers who, it is said, can tap into any electronic communication. And there’s the information- assurance directorate, the cybersecurity nerds who make sure our government’s computers and telecommunications systems are hacker- and eavesdropper-free.

In other words, there’s a locked-down spy division and a relatively open geek division. The problem is, their goals are often in opposition. One team wants to exploit software holes; the other wants to repair them. This has created a conflict — especially when it comes to working with outsiders in need of the NSA’s assistance. Fortunately, there’s a relatively simple solution: We should break up the NSA.

More here.


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