NSA Automating Systems Administrator Jobs after Security Leak | TechWell

NSA Automating Systems Administrator Jobs after Security Leak

In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revealing classified information about the government’s extensive secret surveillance program, the National Security Agency (NSA) has announced it will significantly reduce its workforce to cut down on the number of people with access to confidential data.

NSA director Keith Alexander announced during a cyber-security conference that the spy agency, which monitors foreign electronic communications, is eliminating nearly all of its systems administrators.

“What we’re in the process of doing—not fast enough—is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent,” he said.

The agency currently employs about a thousand system administrators, many of them contractors, as Snowden was. He wasn’t mentioned by name at the security conference, and though plans to reduce the number of positions at the NSA were in the works before Snowden’s revelations to the press occurred, NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines admitted the effort has since been accelerated.

Using technology to automate much of the work now done by systems administrators would make the NSA's networks faster, as well as "more defensible and more secure," Alexander said.

The agency used the free, open source software OpenStack to create its own private cloud called the Intelligence Community’s Information Technology Enterprise, which provides an infrastructure as a service that relies on a network of computers linked on the Internet. Analysts say this will let the NSA run its IT operations more like Amazon and Google do.

The virtual cloud structure “is actually where we were trying to go,” Alexander said. “That cuts down on the number of system administrators, allows them to do other functions…and it also addresses the number of system administrators you have.”

The cloud gets rid of the strict production environments that come with physically separate systems requiring large teams to support them. Before, employees had to fill out paperwork and wait while requests were processed and sent to an approval board. The new, more centralized system can automate the deployment, installation, and configuration of NSA servers.

“We’ve put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing,” Alexander said.

Many organizations these days are moving toward a cloud system, either public or private, to streamline processes and reduce costs, but it requires making some choices about employees and their functions. However, a shakeup can provide some good justification for a new infrastructure.

“Most organizations don’t take action until they get a good kick in the teeth,” said Glenn O’Donnell, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “Edward Snowden was a kick in the teeth.”

What do you think about the role of systems administrator being automated? Do you think this is a good way for organizations to protect sensitive data?

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