icon bookmark-bicon bookmarkicon cameraicon checkicon chevron downicon chevron lefticon chevron righticon chevron upicon closeicon v-compressicon downloadicon editicon v-expandicon fbicon fileicon filtericon flag ruicon full chevron downicon full chevron lefticon full chevron righticon full chevron upicon gpicon insicon mailicon moveicon-musicicon mutedicon nomutedicon okicon v-pauseicon v-playicon searchicon shareicon sign inicon sign upicon stepbackicon stepforicon swipe downicon tagicon tagsicon tgicon trashicon twicon vkicon yticon wticon fm

Snowden sparks NSA overhaul: Sensitive data to be treated like nuclear weapons

Snowden sparks NSA overhaul: Sensitive data to be treated like nuclear weapons
The US is overhauling intelligence access, introducing new measures meant to prevent another mega-leak similar to the one carried out by Edward Snowden from happening again, according to Pentagon’s top officials.

A “two-man rule” is being introduced at the NSA as  means of tightening access to top-secret data, according to the agency’s chief Keith Alexander, who was speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Thursday.

"We'll close and lock server rooms so that it takes two people to get in there," Alexander said. 

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander (AFP Photo / Win Mcnamee)

The practice is taken from the way nuclear weapons are handled, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter explained, adding it is a wise thing to do to protect the system from “some aberrant individual”.

So when it comes to nuclear weapon… we don't let people all by themselves do anything.  Nobody ever touches a nuclear weapon by him or herself.  There are always two people rated in the same specialty.  So everybody can see and understand exactly what is being done to that weapon,” Carter said.

Another thing which, according to Deputy Defense Secretary, allowed for a large-scale leak was the fact that the NSA kept all of its information stored on one server. The plan is to have sensitive data segmented, so a new potential leaker won’t be able to do as much damage as Snowden did.

Loading onto a server creates a security risk…. It's something we can't do, because it creates too much information in one place… You do have to compartmentalize [data] more rigidly,” Carter said.

Among other anti-leak measures announced are encrypting data in a more sophisticated way, as well as decreasing the number of system administrators with access to it.

This kind of massive overhaul of the security measures throughout the whole of the US intelligence network would be extremely expensive and will definitely take time, former and current US officials told Reuters, who did not wish to have their names disclosed.  

Potential leaks from insiders are also going to be tackled with the help of 40 new cyber teams (27 of them on defense missions, and the remaining 13 entitled to carry out offensive operations).  

Job one” for the cyber force “is protecting integrity of our networks”, Carter said. “Obviously, therein enters Snowden,” he added. 

Deputy U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (AFP Photo / Alex Wong)

As for the NSA’s chief, he defended at length the now much criticized spying methods used by the agency, saying “you need a haystack to find a needle.”

General Alexander reiterated that thanks to the mass surveillance programs, dozens of terrorist conspiracies were disrupted and Snowden’s leak led to terrorist groups changing their communications and thus falling out of sight of security agents.  

Alexander’s assertions have, however, long been challenged by independent researchers. For example,a US nonprofit think-tank, The New America Foundation, argues that out of the 42 terrorist plots mounted by US homegrown jihadists since 2001, nine resulted in actual terrorist acts and 33 were prevented using conventional intelligence methods such as the use of informants and community reports on suspicious activity.