Amid big hacks, U.S. spy agency touts collaboration center with private industry

FILE PHOTO: The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters is seen in Fort Meade, Maryland, U.S. February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Sait Serkan Gurbuz

FORT MEADE, Md. (Reuters) - The U.S. National Security Agency, in a rare move, on Tuesday showcased a new office aimed at greater collaboration with U.S. private sector defense, technology and telecommunications companies.

The Cybersecurity Collaboration Center is part of a plan to help the agency develop deeper ties and learn about active hacking campaigns from U.S. companies that are continuously targeted by hacking groups long-tracked by the spy agency, said NSA Director of Cybersecurity Rob Joyce.

"I think it is really important for NSA to take a stance where we are engaging and figuring out how to make the environment more secure and everyone is learning from the lessons of the past," he said at a media roundtable.

Tuesday's event comes after a series of high-profile hacks over the last year, including a massive cyberattack that penetrated numerous federal agencies and another that crippled a major U.S. gas pipeline.

U.S. officials have said they lack total visibility on the cyberthreat due to legal restrictions that prevent the NSA and other federal spy agencies from collecting data on domestic computer networks.

Foreign hackers know about the controls, former U.S. officials say, so they often stage attacks on U.S.-based servers.

While the agency has said publicly it is not seeking new legal authority to bridge the gap, initiatives like the Collaboration Center could help it get an early warning on cyberattacks against the private sector, said Joyce.

Partners will benefit from the NSA's vast experience and analytical capability, said Morgan Adamski, chief of the center.

"Cybersecurity is a team sport and NSA is really just stepping up to play its position," said Adamski.

The center is unique in the NSA's history because it is located off-campus, beyond the "fence line" of the spy agency's main headquarters and is largely an unclassified space.

There is no security checkpoint before the entrance and office staff can bring their personal devices into the building, a stark difference from NSA headquarters. The glass-encapsulated, open-office space looks more like a Silicon Valley campus than a 68-year-old national security establishment.

Industry partners for the office, which first opened in January, include defense contractors, cloud computing firms, cybersecurity companies and internet service providers.

"Providing services to the defense industrial base and national security systems and a large U.S. market share is what we focus on from a selection criteria," said Adamski.

A virtual chat room connects NSA staff and industry partners at the center with analysts on the main campus who can share advice based on the NSA's foreign intelligence collection.

The agency declined to identify companies participating in the center and did not commit to naming them in the future.

(Reporting by Christopher Bing; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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