WASHINGTON — In the battle over cyberspace, adversaries to the United States are continually switching up their methods to hack U.S. systems, a senior National Security Agency official said Wednesday.
That means the U.S. must in turn keep shifting the tools and techniques it uses to counter hackers from nations like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea — and team up with the private sector to do so, David Luber, deputy director for NSA’s cybersecurity directorate, said in a panel during C4ISRNET’s CyberCon.
“Even as we’re on this call right now, the cyberspace domain is changing,” Luber said. “New malware is being released, new vulnerabilities are being discovered, and adversaries will use those vulnerabilities to gain access to our critical … Department of Defense and national security systems.”
As part of its effort to work with the private sector, Luber said NSA’s Cybersecurity Collaboration Center is developing analytics that help it sift through both government signals intelligence collected overseas and what industry analysts have spotted.
“By comparing results, we’re able to better understand the tradecraft of those adversaries, and then develop, jointly, methods to thwart their activities,” Luber said.
The NSA has published more than 50 cybersecurity advisories over the last two years to share threat intelligence with the defense industry and other organizations. Some of those advisories have gone so far as to highlight specific pieces of malware, or tactics, techniques and procedures that Russian or Chinese hackers use to try to get into sensitive networks and infrastructures, and common vulnerabilities they like to exploit.
Hackers from Iran, North Korea or non-state organizations that try to extort money using ransomware are also threats, Luber said.
Rear Adm. Mike Ryan, head of the Coast Guard’s Cyber Command, said during the same panel that while the competition to recruit in-demand cybersecurity professionals is tough, his service’s mission and the enthusiasm it breeds help make it competitive.
“People want to be part of my command,” Ryan said. “I am not going to win on the salary and compensation schemes, but I can definitely be competitive through the selfless service we enjoy from … the incredible opportunities that we allow our people to execute.”
But money never hurts — Ryan noted the Coast Guard is trying to use bonuses to attract talented candidates.
Luber said NSA has partnerships with 340 universities nationwide to encourage students to study cybersecurity. Every summer, he said, about 300 students receive 12-week internships at NSA, and 70% to 85% of those interns go on to work for NSA full-time after graduation.
NSA also is trying to encourage even younger people to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through a program called GenCyber, which offers students from kindergarten through high school opportunities to attend summer camps focused on cybersecurity. This past summer, he said, GenCyber offered 146 camps in 46 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.
“It begins early with partnerships — partnerships at K through 12, partnerships with universities, the professors, the students and the faculty — to build the next generation of cybersecurity experts to bring their talents to the National Security Agency,” Luber said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.