The NSA will eliminate 90 percent of the system administrators who maintain the agency’s networks, according to the agency’s director Keith Alexander. Speaking on Thursday to a cybersecurity conference, the NSA chief said that most of the current work done by staff and contractor system administrators — Snowden’s old job — could be replicated by automated technology.
“We’ve put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing,” Alexander said according to Reuters, adding, “What we’re in the process of doing — not fast enough — is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent.” The change, he argues, will make their networks more secure, more defensible, and faster. According to Alexander, the agency started down that path before Snowden’s leaks, but have made it a higher priority in recent months. The director never mentioned Snowden’s name, but the whistleblower was clearly part of the subject at hand. According to the Huffington Post, who attended the conference of about 300 (including the heads of the FBI and CIA), Alexander added:
“We trust people with data. At the end of the day it’s all about trust. And people who have access to data as part of their missions, if they misuse that trust they can cause huge damage.”
System administrations are already under tighter scrutiny at the agency, with new restrictions in place on the use of thumb drives (which is presumably how Snowden snagged the documents he leaked), and a mandatory “buddy system” when one administrator needs to access sensitive data.
So, what’s the new, automated Snowden replacement? Alexander was short on details, but mentioned that the new technology designed to replace system administrators would resemble a “thin virtual cloud structure.”