The NSA To Design Security After Nuclear Fail-Safes

The NSA doesn’t want another Snowden. Because In the information age, data leaks are as dangerous as enriched uranium.

The NSA To Design Security After Nuclear Fail-Safes

Edward Snowden didn’t know everything, the American public has been (darkly) assured. The NSA isn’t a collection of total imbeciles, meaning that while guys like Snowden may access a deep well of information, it’s not necessarily all that wide. Security IT personnel will often have access to only limited databases. So if any one guy goes rogue, the system shouldn’t come tumbling down.


Obviously, that method hasn’t proven to be entirely successful. And in turn, the NSA is reassessing the way it designs its own security. From The New York Times:

The director of the N.S.A., Gen. Keith B. Alexander, acknowledged the problem in a television interview on Sunday and said his agency would institute “a two-man rule” that would limit the ability of each of its 1,000 system administrators to gain unfettered access to the entire system. The rule, which would require a second check on each attempt to access sensitive information, is already in place in some intelligence agencies. It is a concept borrowed from the field of cryptography, where, in effect, two sets of keys are required to unlock a safe.

The article continues:

Asked Sunday about General Alexander’s two-man rule, Dale W. Meyerrose, a former chief information officer for the director of national intelligence, said, ‘I think what he’s doing is reasonable.’

‘There are all kinds of things in life that have two-man rules,’ added Mr. Meyerrose, who now runs a business consulting firm. ‘We’ve had a two-man rule ever since we had nuclear weapons. And when somebody repairs an airplane, an engineer has to check it.’

Indeed, you can’t think of the two-man rule without invoking images of a pair of suited men with matching briefcases, turning keys in tandem to arm a nuclear weapon. And it’s a remarkable sign of the times–the information age–that our security for data breaches need to match that most infamously associated with nuclear weapons. It’s also an interesting reminder, that despite 60 years of breakthrough hardware and software technologies, we haven’t found a better way to design around one lasting human trait: conscience.

Read more here.

[IMAGE: Atomic Bomb, Nagasaki, Japan via Library of Congress, Two Men via Shutterstock]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.