teach people to pick up a language more quickly, which
ties into learning approaches,
Frincke says. Many advances
have emerged both from NSA
research and from the broader
activities of the NSA/CSS.
One benefit that has emerged
from a university research
program operated through
the University of Maryland
reaches across several universities and other communities—the Center for Advanced
Study of Language.
This benefit involves teaching people how to transition
from one language to another.
For example, a person may
know a language similar to that of a region that has just
emerged as a hot spot. That person theoretically could learn
the new language quicker because the individual already has a
degree of familiarity.
The language effort already has uncovered some interesting
aspects of learning, Frincke relates. Human learning can be
improved by enhancing certain kinds of cognition, she reports.
Enhance those aspects of human cognition, and the person
learns a language better.
“Early indications are, for example, that if we invest time in
improving people’s short- and long-term memory—and we
spend five or six weeks on that project alone to enhance their
overall skills at learning and memory—they’ll learn a lan-
guage faster than if we spent that time teaching the vocabu-
lary,” Frincke declares. “So, priming the brain to understand
language is a piece of what we need to get right.”
This approach involves the issue of “how do we watch the
brain while it’s in action as it’s learning a language,” Frincke
points out. “That is fascinating.”
A third research priority is cyber. Frincke admits that
many different aspects of cybersecurity are important for
the agency. Research efforts must take into account the intel-
ligence community perspective, the information assurance
perspective and work with the U.S. Cyber Command.
On the information assurance side, research is focusing on
several key areas. One of them entails the basic concept of the
science of security, she allows. Much of this work traditionally
has been done ad hoc—problems are discovered, patches are
applied and experts then hope no one exploits vulnerabilities
until the next threat manifests itself.
To go beyond this approach, research aims at the underly-
ing principles that are important in cybersecurity. Frincke
offers that some new approaches may help inform better
decisions long-term. Similarly, some radically different
approaches to cyberdefense could be on the horizon. “This
is an area where I can take advantage of the long-term abil-
ity of NSA research to focus and put some of our researchers
behind that area,” she states.
The NSA is expanding its science of security paper competition, in which it reaches out across the country to identify best practices that it sees in academia and industry. The
agency also is funding “lablets” that would both advance
the science of cyber and bring in more people who would
address problems with a clean slate. This approach aims to
use a zero-based build to design cybersecurity systems from
the bottom up without the existing hurdles wrought by
existing technology and legacy systems.
The agency’s Emerson Building houses what Frincke
describes as the intelligence community’s first classified
and unclassified wireless capability, including an Internet
café. The NSA may be able to learn new means of wireless
defense by using this facility as a testbed. Resilience is a key
approach to cybersecurity. Frincke allows that the agency
is “exploring with great enthusiasm” how defenses might
be designed into a system so it could be self-defending.
This work includes examining the pros and cons of this
approach as well as how effectively it might be used more
broadly, she says.
Addressing information assurance from a science-based
approach builds a foundation on which other kinds of communications media can be examined, Frincke offers. With all
types of new media and related technologies emerging, the
NSA/CSS must be able to defend any kind of communications
device. Experts must determine which pieces of a device must
be protected while preserving the privacy of the user and without affecting the integrity or function of the device.
“We can emphasize in our long-term research of the
principles, and then we need to have an expertise that’s able
to quickly understand new technologies,” she says.
She cites 3-D printers as an example of an exploding technology that will tax the expertise of technology organizations.
Before long, people will be able to produce chips with their
home printers. Users will be able to individually tailor their
own information technology devices, and those devices must
be protected. That security must be principle-based.
Another onrushing advance that challenges NSA/CSS
researchers is the Internet of Things. “When you think
through what might be a blank slate protection of a home,”
that brings up several issues, she points out. “How might
we better defend privacy at the same time we’re providing
security in a home system?” Frincke adds that the NSA/CSS
has some unclassified research in that area.
Some of the security research into resiliency could be
“So, priming the brain to understand language
is a piece of what we need to get right.”
—Deborah A. Frincke, director of research at the National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS)
Dr. Deborah A. Frincke is
the director of research
at the NSA/CSS.