The ink has barely dried on the new Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (pdf) which was unanimously passed by the Senate when news of the NSA’s Perfect Citizen program began circulating. The act itself grants the President authority to use the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) to shut down pieces of the Internet in response to a cyber-attack. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Perfect Citizen will look at large, typically older computer control systems that were often designed without Internet connectivity or security in mind. Many of those systemsâ€”which run everything from subway systems to air-traffic control networksâ€”have since been linked to the Internet, making them more efficient but also exposing them to cyber attack.
The goal is to close the “big, glaring holes” in the U.S.‘s understanding of the nature of the cyber threat against its infrastructure, said one industry specialist familiar with the program. "We don’t have a dedicated way to understand the problem."
The information gathered by Perfect Citizen could also have applications beyond the critical infrastructure sector, officials said, serving as a data bank that would also help companies and agencies who call upon NSA for help with investigations of cyber attacks, as Google did when it sustained a major attack late last year.
Conceptually, Perfect Citizen simply exists as sentry sensors to permit the agency to use its capabilities and expertise to detect intrusions where corporate America fails. Within the past year, even computing giant Google fell prey to a Chinese cyber-attack amongst a smattering of other corporations. There are, of course, privacy concerns raised from the Patriot Act fearing tinfoil hat crowd that placing sensors throughout corporate America and at infrastructure nodes will make it easier to covertly surveil domestic citizens. Would you friend the NSA (Facebook page)?
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