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NSA applies its talents to COVID-related security

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the nation’s security challenges. The attack surface has vastly increased as public- and private-sector organizations moved to mostly online and often remote operations. Additionally, public health groups and pharmaceutical companies have come into in the crosshairs of nation-state hackers.

The National Security Agency's Deputy Director George Barnes said the pandemic has NSA asking how it can protect its own critical activities and get Americans back to work and keep the economy moving.

Signals intelligence -- the agency's bread and butter -- can provide medical research organizations with insight into what information foreign governments are after as well as the tools and methods they're using to get it.

"It wasn't [more than] a few days into March where phone calls were coming in to NSA asking us for our insights and our support to that community, and so we have doubled down and really accelerated and intensified efforts to reach out," Barnes said on a webcast hosted by the Intelligence National Security Alliance.

While one of the directorate's core missions is protecting national security systems such as nuclear command and control infrastructure, the organization has realized that many of the vulnerabilities it’s called upon to defend against are the result of a lack of coordination between the industries that create technologies and the governments who use them to protect cyberspace. "We are not well positioned as a nation" to defend against digital espionage and supply chain compromises, Barnes said.

The directorate focuses resources on the things only it can do. "At NSA I want to do things that nobody else can do," he said. "I don't want to do things that others can do. The world's too big, we have too many priorities, too many pressing needs to pursue duplication."

A longer version of this article was first posted on FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.


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