Black Hat 2013 Speech by NSA Head Gen. Keith Alexander Leads to Lively Responses

Black Hat 2013 Speech by NSA Head Gen. Keith Alexander Leads to Lively Responses

Much of the attention of the Black Hat 2013 cyber-security conference has been the loud, sometimes negative reaction to General Keith Alexander’s keynote speech on Wednesday. He is, after all, the head of the National Security Agency (NewsAlert), which was instrumental in the PRISM scandal.

But there were also several security trends that also were on the minds of attendees in Las Vegas, according to a report from eWeek. These include hacking of the Internet of Things. It relates to sensors and home security. Other topics include mobile security and the Android (NewsAlert) operating system, security/identity/privacy, and the NSA and digital monitoring. Hacking of personal computers is not as important as it used to be, the report adds.

Meanwhile, though Alexander was booed, he offered some details in proving that PRISM, the intelligence gathering effort, was important in stopping 54 terrorist attacks globally, news reports said.

Also, Alexander claimed only a restricted number of analysts at NSA can go through phone metadata and e-mail. Federal judges and members of Congress also provide oversight, he said.

“Industry doesn’t dump stuff to us and say, ‘here are interesting facts,’” Alexander said, The Wall Street Journal reported. “They are compelled by court order to comply.”

Thirteen of the 54 plots were in the United States, Alexander said. One example is how an intercepted e-mail from a suspected terrorist in Pakistan led to blocking a New York City plot to bomb the subway in 2009, he said.

“It would have been the biggest terrorist attack since 9/11 on U.S. soil,” Alexander claimed.

At least one in attendance responded to Alexander’s speech by saying: “Bullsh**.” That led to some applause, ZDNet reported. Other audience members suggested he was not telling the truth, news reports said.

Alexander defended those working on preventing terrorism, calling them heroes, and said that was “no bullsh**,” the news report said. That led to applause, too.

There are limits on the operation, with Alexander saying, “We do not see the content of your calls.” Also, only 22 employees at the NSA can approve a number for queries, he said. In addition, only 35 employees at the NSA can undertake queries in a database, he adds. Also, during 2012 less than 300 numbers were approved for queries, he said.

“We have 100% auditability on every query we make. … We worked with committees in Congress for a directorate of compliance,” Alexander was quoted by ZDNet as saying.a