NSA Research Directorate Looks Internally, Externally

September 19, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The agency seeks to exploit its own assets while tapping others.

The National Security Agency (NSA) is focusing inward and externally as it adopts a new approach to technology policy. This effort ranges from seeking outside partners in technology development to conducting an internal audit to uncover weak points that might bring down the agency.

Deborah Frincke, director of the NSA's Research Directorate, told the audience at the AFCEA/INSA Intelligence and National Security Summit 2014, being held September 18-19 in Washington, D.C., how her directorate has three areas of focus. The first is to see whether or not the NSA’s research directorate is helping the agency to be a true learning organization. “To adapt to change, we must be able to learn,” she pointed out.

The second focus is to look at the agency’s technologies with a critical eye toward vulnerabilities. “We must have no technological single points of failure that would hurt the agency,” she declared. “The country cannot afford this. We have to look for potential weakness and mitigate those gaps where something working well could be compromised.”

For the third focus, Frincke said, “We must be sure we are living in the real world of technology. It’s important to look at how we partner externally with technological partners on the outside.”

Frincke added that she aims to empower people so they can be as effective as possible. One way would be to eliminate onerous tasks, she noted. For example, automation could take over network monitoring, thus removing people from the drudgery of checking out false positives. “We need a healthy science and technology environment,” she emphasized.

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