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back to article NSA gets burned by a sysadmin, decides to burn 90% of its sysadmins

The NSA has announced its brainwave to end further leaks about its secret operations by disaffected employees: it will simply sack 90 per cent of all its sysadmins. The US surveillance agency's spyboss General Keith Alexander told a computer security conference in New York that automating much of his organisation's work - such …

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skynet

and so it begins...

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Trollface

Re: skynet

My first thought was about the old tabletop RPG "Paranoia" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paranoia_(role-playing_game) ) .

What could possibly go wrong?

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Devil

Re: skynet

yeah...piss off a Snowden and he effs off to Russia. Piss off HAL and he'll make sure Russia comes to you.

On a lighter note, I'm sure when HAL gets the hump, it'll all be terribly efficient.

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Re: skynet

Sounds great in theory!

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that machines are probably better at doing

And no inconvenient morals to get in the way.

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Coat

Re: that machines are probably better at doing

In the film, Enemy of the State, the whole story seems to revolve around an AI gone mad, when in fact it is the AI that is defending the constitution and trying to effect a regime change to stop the traitors (i.e. the current government).

In the end the traitors win and turn off the machine, and the people lost.

Starting to sound more like a documentary every day.

Coat please, I want off this stinking rock. Where's my spaceship already!?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: skynet

"Sounds great in theory!"

Problem is they're putting it into practice including testing computer controlled drones with no human input.

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Joke

Re: that machines are probably better at doing "Where's my spaceship already!?"

I think your spaceship is being built by Section 31. I'm just not sure whether the Temporal Integrity Commission has allowed Section 31 to stay in one or more than one timeline. You'll just have to wade into the stream and hope to find it.

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Re: skynet

"Colossus: The Forbin Project" - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064177

Still good, I think.

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Paris Hilton

Re: "In the film, Enemy of the State"

I think you might have got the wrong film. "Enemy of the State" was a Will Smith vehicle, with the added bonus of Gene Hackman turning up in basically the same paranoid character role as he played in the 'The Conversation', but twenty years later. I think you may be thinking of "Colossus: The Forbin Project" from 1970.

(Paris - because there is a French Connection here somewhere - can you see what I did?).

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Coat

Re: "In the film, Enemy of the State"

opps sorry, previous bloke went there.

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Coat

Re: that machines are probably better at doing

"n the film, Enemy of the State, the whole story seems to revolve around an AI gone mad, when in fact it is the AI that is defending the constitution and trying to effect a regime change to stop the traitors (i.e. the current government)."

Right idea, wrong movie.

The film you're thinking of is "Eagle Eye."

Yes that is an anorak.

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Re: that machines are probably better at doing @Sir Runcible Spoon

"In the film, Enemy of the State, the whole story seems to revolve around an AI gone mad, when in fact it is the AI that is defending the constitution and trying to effect a regime change to stop the traitors (i.e. the current government)."

Wrong film d00d, it's "Eagle Eye" you're talking about and yes, that is indeed the first thing that came out of my mind when reading this article. And the Paranoia game. And Terminator. AI seems to screw up constantly, doesn't it?

The fun thing is that the AI was kinda right, though its methods were a bit too extreme.

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Alien

Re: that machines are probably better at doing @Sir Runcible Spoon

Just to help complete the running total of AI's that went off their trollies and decided to get even for some imagined slight, may I introduce the contributors to "Demon Seed" by Dean R. Koontz, and the often humorous and quite enjoyable "The Family D'Alembert" series by Stephen Goldin with some help from Old Doc Smith.

Fictional artificial intelligences rarely fare well. I wonder if that's something our masters and would-be owners should consider. After all, the greatest threat to the all-powerful machine would be its immediate human associates, those very same masters and owners. They may not be much of a threat, but if you are aiming to live forever *any* threat is too many.

ET because that's basically what the silicon overlord will be if we ever make one.

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Paris Hilton

Re: that machines are probably better at doing @Sir Runcible Spoon

Bugger, well at least I described it well enough for you to know what I meant, even if I do sound like a dumbass :)

Paris, for the blonde moment.

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Thumb Down

Re: that machines are probably better at doing

Gee fucking thanks for spoiling the entire movie

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Re: that machines are probably better at doing

Ahem, did you forget to put the 't' in morals?

On first glance I read "And no inconvenient mortals to get in the way"

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Pint

Re: that machines are probably better at doing

There's also several Philip K Dick stories to refer to:-

The Defenders - robots on the surface, pretending that the war is still raging, keep humans underground so that they do not engage in actual war

Second Variety - what we might now call "drones" are built to self-replicate and kill enemy soldiers, but develop so effectively that they kill both sides, and are so deceptive that they manage to find out where the last remnant of mankind is hiding on the moon

Probably more that I have forgotten...

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Re: that machines are probably better at doing

"Gee fucking thanks for spoiling the entire movie"

Thanks for pointing out your inability to predict your standard Hollywood script.

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Re: that machines are probably better at doing

@Caesarius

Second Variety was made into a pretty good film by the name of Screamers a while back. Well worth a look.

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Paris Hilton

Re: skynet

"My first thought was about the old tabletop RPG "Paranoia""

My first thought was about the hundreds of administrators that were sent to Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan to clean up the 2008 cyberattack and their month long effort to clean up multiple networks from the malware that was exfiltrating data to a foreign power.

And the sacking of them over the actions of one prima dona.

Oh well, they can just spend a year cleaning up the mess next time.

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Re: that machines are probably better at doing

Screamers was pretty good, it even has robocop in it :)

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Nym
WTF?

Morals?

What in the world are morals?

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FAIL

Logic error detected.

If they could do this before why didn't they?

If they couldn't do this before what has changed? Or has Snowden forced the Legislature to act.

Not you will note to actually shut the operation down of course.

The American people remain the #1 threat to them.

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Re: Logic error detected.

Before Snowden the money spent on fleshies to handle data made the agency look more important. With Snowden breaching his contract's security requirement, it is now blatantly obvious they have a security issue that has to be fixed. Even at the cost of not looking as important at budget time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Logic error detected.

I thought you were talking about that other logic error in here: the assumption that automation fixes a human problem. We've been there before, methinks.

The most applicable computer statement is: it allows us to make errors faster.

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didn't do it before due to Windows.

have to have one admin for every 25-30 Windows machine...

Can do the same job with one Linux admin for every 100 machines. If many of them are VM servers, make it 200.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: didn't do it before due to Windows.

An NHS Trust I worked for had 17 IT Staff as Business as Usual support to ~6000 users on windows. That's 352 users per admin.

Which OS you use is an irrelevance. What matters is competence. Competent people automate things as a matter of course, (un)trained monkeys think the only way of dealing with a problem is to throw massive amounts of manpower resources at it because they don't have the skills to do anything else.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Logic error detected.

So it was a bit like:

Reporter: "Why did they not do this earlier? Sack the unneeded staff?"

Agent: "Well, they needed an excuse for that 'Super expensive *HR* system.'"

Reporter: "What HR system?"

Agent: "Exactly!"

Could be a good ruse for a certain BOFH. ;)

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"What matters is competence" @Anon 18:02

The thing you got wrong in your post was the part about "untrained monkeys think the only way of dealing with a problem is to throw massive amounts of manpower resources at it". It is more that they don't know any way of dealing with a problem other than dealing with it.

The main difference is that bad admins deal with a problem and once dealt with, go on the next problem. They like having the same problem constantly happen, because they know how to deal with it, it gives them visibility and the boss knows they're working, and they don't have to learn anything new. Good admins deal with a problem, and once dealt with continue dealing with it. In order of preference:

- fix the root cause so it never recurs

- partially fix the root cause to mitigate its impact to something you can log and ignore

- automate the "dealing with it" part so people aren't necessary to fix it when it recurs

- automate the monitoring so a ticket can be created automatically for the level 1 or level 2 guys to that tells them what the problem is and what steps that need to be followed, so they don't escalate it your way

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WTF?

Re: didn't do it before due to Windows.

Dude you need to look at Automation, 1 System Admin can easily look after way more machines if you invest in it properly.

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Big Brother

Re: Logic error detected.

The American people are indeed the greatest threat to them. But they'll soon subdue them. They're already herding protesters at presidential appearances into out of the way "Free Speech Zones," which effectively violate the freedoms of speech and assembly that US citizens are supposed to enjoy under their constitution. Now their right to privacy is being undermined.

The American people had better do something soon...

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Devil

Re: Logic error detected.

You've heard of "upgrades", right?

Maybe they couldn't do this before, but they can now because the system has been improved, for values of "improved".

Really, there's no need to invent any more conspiracies here. The ones we know about are bad enough.

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Big Brother

"There were no mistakes like that at all."

The mistakes we made were in employing humans to do the work. We shan't be doing that again.

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Happy

No people-

Nobody to cry over when the datacenter burns down.

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Happy

Re: No people-

"Nobody to cry over when the datacenter burns down."

Careful, under US law that's close to incitement.

From a very paranoid angle of course.

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Devil

Re: No people-

I am very incited!

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Re: No people-

There will be carbon-based guards (not reinforced tungsten carbide guards with treads and flesh-searing-lasers/masers), just to make it possible to levy "murder" charges when one of these silos is flooded, gassed, or set alight (or, if you have a transporter, aloft). It's just that the guards do not truly understand how expendable they are.

Maybe in that case, if that is the ONLY reason they are there, they should thus know just how expendable they are, and maybe the WON'T be cried for.

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No...

The mistake made was getting caught at it.

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WTF?

Better solution

First he wanted to double the number to sys admins to make it more secure. Now he wants to get rid of 90% of them. I guess someone whispered in his ear that is would be cheaper.

Well, I have a even better solution: why don't you decrease your world-wide data vacuuming by 90% (and actually do what your agency is supposed to do). This has several advantages:

- cuts costs

- you don't break the law

- 90% less chance less of leaks

- you don't piss every on Earth off so much

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Stop

Re: Better solution

Alexander isn't in control of his agency. He hasn't had a clue since day one of the whole Snowden affair. He's been all over the board, saying contradictory things and flat out being a dumbass. At first I thought he was being clever and covering up other things, but no. He's just a dumbass and needs to be replaced.

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Big Brother

Re: Better solution

Perhaps the term you're looking for is "useful figurehead". Get him out, get somebody else in... repeat n times... - nothing changes....

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Re: Better solution

The CIA will look weak compared to the Russians if they don't do a polonium type thing on Snowden. Don't think they will like that.

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Re: Better solution

I don't believe changing the leader will change their policies and directives, but I do believe it would change their terrible internal operations and management. The guy has dropped every ball he's been handed since this began. Even though I think what the NSA is doing is awful, they don't have to look like a bunch of clowns while doing it.

No matter what you're doing, do it right. That's doubly true if you've got a nearly unlimited off books budget and no real legal framework to hold you back.

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Anonymous Coward

I have just about stopped laughing enough to type

affweifhsdfnv]'[fgniv]'oinwn]'[ion]oinwef

or maybe not.

There is nothing better anyone who wanted - for whatever reason - to best the NSA could have, than a completely automated, mechanical, unwavering, unerring system in place. Because once you remove the human element, you're effectively betting your machines are better than human minds.

Anyone here willing to make the same bet ?

Does anyone recall the film "Who Dares Wins" where the SAS soldier who has infiltrated the terrorist cell manges to persuade them to do everything that helps the anti-terrorist units. Such as getting the terrorists to gather all the hostages into a central location (which makes it easier for the good guys to evacuate them). The terrorists aren't stupid, and tell the agent they'd heard the best way was to split up, and scatter the hostages. The agent smiles and says "that's what they want you to think. It helps them, as it means you're too spread out to fight effectively" (or words to that effect).

I think the NSA have just been scammed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I have just about stopped laughing enough to type

Thanks for the "Where Eagle's Dare" and Lewis Collins nostalgia... The movie brought back memories of "The Professionals". Wonder what happened to LC after, did he quit acting....?

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1000 System Admins?

Estimates are that the NSA has around 30k-40k employees.

Having 1000 system admins for that seems a little extreme anyway! I'd say a sustainable level would be closer to 200 sysadmins for that number of employees (obviously organised into a tiered structure).

However, my guess is that they have the admins split into small teams with no crossover between systems for security reasons.

Reducing the number of them actually sounds like it might increase risk - as the more concentrated workforce will have greater access to systems.

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Joke

Re: 1000 System Admins?

The agent smiles and says "that's what they want you to think".

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Re: 1000 System Admins?

You have system admins based on the number of machines, not on the number of employees. I'm pretty sure that the NSA has a large number of servers in the back end to look after.

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Re: 1000 System Admins?

The article states that Snowden + 1000 other sysadmins had access to the data, not that there are 1000 sysadmins at the NSA in total.

But what I keep thinking about is this: So 90% of the admins are tossed out the door, what will the NSA do if the remaining 10% give the NSA the finger and follow after their chums? Then you'll have 39,000 employees who don't know how to work the servers.

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