Ex-NSA chief defends his profitable cyber-security business

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As the marriage between surveillance and non-governmental cyber-security firms comes under the spotlight, former NSA chief Keith Alexander fends off criticism of his new lucrative business, which he claims will revolutionize cyber-security.

Alexander, who recently announced work on a number of “game-changing” patents to propel cyber security forward, sees nothing improper in the practice, as he revealed in a Tuesday interview with the AP.

The former NSA head also stands to answer why he failed to share some of his groundbreaking ideas in his time as a government employee. But for Alexander, this seems to be a straightforward pursuit of doing business and making a living.

“If I retired from the Army as a brain surgeon, wouldn’t it be OK for me to go into private practice and make money doing brain surgery? … “I’m a cyber guy. Can’t I go to work and do cyber stuff?” said the man who for nine years had access to the nation’s most sensitive secrets.

The business was rumored to be bringing him a cool $1 million a month, but Alexander has brushed off the figure as inflated.

Explaining further why IronNet Cybersecurity is different to how the government uses information, Alexander said that the NSA only had authority to defend secret government networks, whereas his work will be focused on the private sector.

The tools and technical reach are at this point unknown, but “If it actually works, this will be worth a lot,” he said of his new “behavioral model,” which purports to use sophisticated techniques to catch unconventional hackers.

Critics see a number of issues with Alexander’s new venture, IronNet Cybersecurity. Apart from the generally disliked idea of government officials cashing in on sensitive information learned and tools retained from public service, people worry that any type of access to sensitive information by private firms using high-tech tools is not good. Only recently there was a private sector initiative to pool top officials from eight US government agencies to create a council that would defend the banking industry from cyber-attacks.

Indeed, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIMFA), the Wall Street group that proposed the council, has retained Alexander’s services. That agreement and others have raised concerns among those who’ve said Alexander may be in the business of disclosing state secrets for any company with a budget big enough to afford his services.

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