The National Security Agency is working with Internet service providers to deploy a new generation of tools to scan e-mail and other digital traffic with the goal of thwarting cyberattacks against defense firms by foreign adversaries, senior defense and industry officials say.
The novel program, which began last month on a voluntary, trial basis, relies on sophisticated NSA data sets to identify malicious programs slipped into the vast stream of Internet data flowing to the nation’s largest defense firms. Such attacks, including one last month against Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin, are nearly constant as rival nations and terrorist groups seek access to U.S. military secrets.
“We hope the . . . cyber pilot can be the beginning of something bigger,” Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said at a global security conference in Paris on Thursday. “It could serve as a model that can be transported to other critical infrastructure sectors, under the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security.”
The prospect of a role for the NSA, the nation’s largest spy agency and a part of the Defense Department, in helping Internet service providers filter domestic Web traffic already had sparked concerns among privacy activists. Lynn’s suggestion that the program might be extended beyond the work of defense contractors threatened to raise the stakes.
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