NSA To Lay Off 90 Percent Of Its System Administrators

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According to director Keith Alexander, the measure is meant to improve the security of NSA data

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has found an unusual way to limit the number of people who can access its secret surveillance data – it will simply lay off 90 percent of its system administrators.

According to NSA director Keith Alexander, the Agency has always planned to automate much of the work that goes inside its data centres. However, following the PR nightmare caused by revelations of the former security consultant Edward Snowden, this policy will be accelerated.

NSA SysAdmins pack their bags

“What we’re in the process of doing – not fast enough – is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent,” Alexander told the International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS) in New York, reports Reuters.

Keith Alexander at ICCSThe Agency currently employs around a thousand sysadmins. It wants to drastically reduce their numbers after Snowden, who was employed to look after NSA’s networks, caused one of the most significant NSA security breaches in United States history.

In May 2013, Snowden began leaking documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post, revealing the existence of Internet and telephone surveillance programs such as PRISM, XKeyscore and Tempora.

Alexander said that the majority of the NSA system administrator workload consists of “things that machines are probably better at doing”. Replacing people with hardware and software robots in its data centres would make the Agency’s networks more secure, as well as increase their overall performance.

While speaking at ICCS, Alexander claimed that NSA projects have been “grossly mischaracterized” by the media. “No one has wilfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies,” he said.

The director of the NSA was heckled last week during his talk at the BlackHat conference in Las Vegas, as he defended his organisation against claims it was able to follow any kind of Internet activity. “Not every analyst can perform every function, and no analyst can operate freely. Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law,” said Alexander.

However, Snowden had previously suggested that even contracted analysts like himself could use the XKeyscore tool with little oversight.

It is worth noting BlackHat is a generic cybersecurity conference, while ICCS, where Alexander received a warmer welcome,  is geared towards representatives of law enforcement agencies.

Meanwhile, Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, after the country refused to extradite the whistleblower to the US, where he is facing charges of espionage and theft of government property.


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