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NSA seeks to combine offense and defense in its spy efforts

Fahmida Y. Rashid | March 3, 2016
NSA chief Michael Rogers argues against a presidential commission's proposal to restrict the NSA to foreign intelligence, and asks the tech industry for help.

The NSA chief also mused about how attacks against data would evolve. At the moment, the focus is on just stealing data, but there will come a time when attackers will start manipulating data, software, or products, he said. Modifying data to show something other than what is expected can have far-reaching consequences, such as if bank accounts don't display the amount of money the customer believes there should be, or if businesses see their financial transactions not reflect what they expect to see.

"What do you do when you can't believe the data?" he asked.

Rogers's final worry was about adversaries moving away from using online tools for recruiting and towards actual destruction. Currently, these adversaries use tools to recruit, spread ideology, and generate revenue. The next stage would be destructive attacks to disrupt the status quo. "What happens when those same actors use cyber as a tool for destruction?" he asked.

Rogers says little about the Apple-FBI stand-off

While Rogers was on stage, Apple and FBI were facing off in Congress over the federal government's attempt to force Apple to devise ways to bypass iPhones' and iPads' password and encryption protections.

Rogers didn't really touch on the debate, but noted, "We find ourselves in a space where there are those who want to use that same technology to harm." However, the issues at stake are "fundamental to the very construct of our nation" and that it was important that everyone work together to find common ground. There needs to be an actual dialogue, as opposed to the current situation where everyone is just yelling at each other, he said. "We're spending a lot of time talking to each other about what we can't do. ... It's time for all of us to stop talking past each other and start talking to and with each other."


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