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NSA To Monitor Critical Computer Networks Looking For Imperfect Citizens

$100+ Million Classified Program Hopes To Understand Glaring Cyber Security Holes in US Critical Infrastructure

2 min read
NSA To Monitor Critical Computer Networks Looking For Imperfect Citizens

There is a story in the Wall Street Journal about a new, $100+ million, classified program being run out of the National Security Agency (NSA) that will monitor critical commercial and government infrastructure systems such as electricity grids, nuclear power plants, air traffic control systems and the like in order to detect cyber attacks.

Dubbed "Perfect Citizen," the NSA hopes the program will hep it fill in what the WSJ calls the "big, glaring holes" in knowledge about exactly how massive, coordinated cyber attacks might negatively affect the US.

The Journal story goes on to quote from an internal email from US defense contractor Raytheon, the program's prime contractor, as saying:

"The overall purpose of the [program] is our Government...feel[s] that they need to insure the Public Sector is doing all they can to secure Infrastructure critical to our National Security."

"Perfect Citizen is Big Brother."

The Journal reports the project is still in its early days, and that the current $100 million investment is likely just a program down payment. Apparently, a lot of effort is being directed towards convincing commercial companies of the need to cooperate, such as allowing the NSA to put monitoring systems on their networks.

As the Journal notes:

"While the government can't force companies to work with it, it can provide incentives to urge them to cooperate, particularly if the government already buys services from that company, [government] officials said."

Hmm, I wonder what those incentives might be?

While I think this idea is generally a good one, why the program is classified is beyond me. It isn't like those likely to launch a massive cyber attack didn't quickly discover its existence way before the press did. You can't hide these types of efforts for long when you are soliciting help from dozens of commercial organizations, some of which are likely being actively spied on by those inclined to hack them.

Given the details in the WSJ story, especially the number of unnamed government officials quoted, it seems obvious that the NSA now wants the program and its aims to become public. It makes me curious as to why.

Was the NSA not getting the cooperation it was expecting? Did companies view it as indeed "Big Brother"?

Or was it just that the program's cover was blown, and the NSA wanted to try to shape its public perception while it had a chance?

The Conversation (0)

Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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