Spy v spy is nothing new; Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold were both spies during the American Revolution, and today’s cyber-world carries on the tradition. Disinformation, misinformation and sabotage are alive and well. Cyber-spies and agents provocateurs are hard at work trying to upset enemy apple-carts, and efforts to suppress these activities are largely unsuccessful.
America is constantly under attack, and the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s top intelligence network, has been working with Internet Service Provider’s (ISP’s) in attempts to foil cyber-attacks. Here are some of the ways the agency and ISP’s work together. Some ISP cooperation has been voluntary, but in many instances ISP’s have had little choice in the matter.
- Existing Cooperation Between NSA and ISP’s – AT&T and Verizon have been handing the NSA voice and data traffic for years; once illegal, laws have been changed to allow the practice. The Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) of 1978 paved the way for greater government utilization of civilian companies and, eventually, ISP’s.
- CALEA – In 1994, Congress enacted a program called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcements Act (CALEA), a program that required all providers of Internet service, including phone companies, ISP’s, colleges and even coffee shops to install equipment that would allow the government to monitor almost all Internet activity.
- The Patriot Act – In the fallout from the 9/11 attacks, warrantless surveillance was introduced, and even though opposing voices were raised there was enough fear of additional attacks that the program was enacted without effective judicial review, and the Bush administration titled it the Terrorist Surveillance Program.
- Recent Developments – In May of 2011, it was reported that defense contractor Lockheed-Martin had come under cyber-attack, and, in a novel move, the defense industry, ISP’s and the NSA joined together to launch a program that would enable the NSA to utilize data sets to identify malicious programs that had been slipped into data streams received by Lockheed-Martin and others. ISP’s would then be able to disable the threats before they reached company servers.
- Unknown Threats – Right now, the NSA technology and the ISP’s ability to filter Internet traffic is only effective against known threats, and work is under way to develop methods of detecting threats that are more ambiguously presented.
- LulzSec and Anonymous – LulzSec and Anonymous are a pair of hacking groups that have declared a virtual war on manifold targets like media companies and mega-corporations; these are among the types of threats the NSA and ISP’s hope to neutralize.
- Civil Liberties – Any time a government begins to monitor its citizen’s personal or business communications, there is a very real threat to the civil liberties of that citizenry.
- Technology – The NSA, which employs more than 40,000 people, is at the forefront of many aspects of Internet security technology, which makes partnership with ISP’s possible.
- Data Bases – ISP’s control incredible data flows, and their ability to monitor vast amounts of information makes them indispensable in any credible attempt to disable cyber-attacks.
- What We Don’t Know – In a cyber-world infused with secrets, we may never truly know the depth of interactivity between ISP’s and government agencies like the NSA.
More threats are inevitable, and continued cooperation between the NSA and ISP’s is truly needed.