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Why the NSA Can't Replace 90% of Its System Administrators 251

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the plus-they'll-sink-your-oil-tankers dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Curious about the recently purposed NSA cuts, Courtney Nash explores a few myths about systems automation 'In the aftermath of Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA's domestic surveillance activities, the NSA has recently announced that they plan to get rid of 90% of their system administrators via software automation in order to "improve security." So far, I've mostly seen this piece of news reported and commented on straightforwardly. But it simply doesn't add up. Either the NSA has a monumental (yet not necessarily surprising) level of bureaucratic bloat that they could feasibly cut that amount of staff regardless of automation, or they are simply going to be less effective once they've reduced their staff.'"
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Why the NSA Can't Replace 90% of Its System Administrators

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  • change of title? are all IT workers called system administrators? do all IT works say do stuff maybe 1-2 times an week that classes them as an system administrator? maybe with more automation then that 1-2 times a week can go a way?

    • by aaaaaaargh! (1150173) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @04:39AM (#44615769)

      My guess is a change of title, too.

      I don't understand why the news and journals report what the NSA announces. For a long time this agency didn't even exist officially. They are allowed and expected to lie about absolutely everything, there are not even reliable records on how many people they employ. Their official statements are and have always been deliberate bullshit and disinformation. It's pointless to take into account anything they say about themselves at all.

  • by ADRA (37398) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:31PM (#44612743)

    This comment has been generated by obligatory troll-bot 10000, an innovation of Huawei and your local NSA front. Have a nice day.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:31PM (#44612745)

    Maybe instead of cutting staff numbers they can just outsource the administrators to China?

    • My not just migrate To The Cloud.

    • by plopez (54068)

      Even better, fire 90% of sysadmins then give the rest of the employees admin access. The problem of sysadmins is now solved...

      • by Shavano (2541114)
        They're probably doing the opposite. Hundreds of people with no real need to have admin privileges have them, which makes it impossible for the people whose job it is to manage the system to do so. So they may not even be planning to lay anybody off, just take away their admin rights, put some automation in place to make it efficient for the actual IT staff to do their job more effectively and let the people who formerly had admin rights get on with their real jobs.
    • by Culture20 (968837)
      I know you're joking, but the Great Firewall will prevent the NSA secrets from reaching the American citizenry, which is all the NSA cares about these days.
  • by cold fjord (826450) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:32PM (#44612765)

    Apparently they look for clues to organizations that have solved similar problems.

    NSA Boosting Automation in Wake of Snowden Leaks [wsj.com]

    The agency has created a private cloud using OpenStack, a Web standard developed by NASA and Rackspace Hosting Inc. Analysts say this lets the NSA run its IT operations in a way that more closely mirrors that of Amazon.com Inc. or Google Inc. Previously, it took weeks or months for employees at NSA to get access to computing resources, said Nathanael Burton, a computer scientist speaking at the OpenStack Summit in Portland in June. The private cloud “let us grow to a scale that a very small team of 12 to 15 people could manage,” he said.

    “We’ve transformed the NSA and over the next few months we’re going to be working with the larger intelligence community to roll out our OpenStack system across the entire intelligence community,” said Mr. Burton in a video of the conference. The NSA did not respond to requests for comment.

    • Woohoo! The Cloud is the solution to all our problems! We're saved!

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      So they are going to spread their data, with more post 911 agencies sharing. The data will all be compressed, encrypted and safe... yet totally usable in real time...
      The NSA always worked with small groups cold. What you seem to be suggesting is the NSA is having its own past resold to it by private contractors with open ended data costs. Better private sector vetting for real this time too?
  • We know nothing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chuckstar (799005) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:36PM (#44612807)

    Since "anonymous reader" isn't in a position to know anything about how the NSA's systems are set up, what these administrators exactly do, who has/needs administrator privileges vs. who could do their jobs with reduced privileges, etc., etc., then isn't this discussion even more of a waste of time than usual on slashdot?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      then isn't this discussion even more of a waste of time than usual on slashdot?

      Law of headlines... no. It's probably about the same amount of time wasted.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      The discussion seems fine. We know the data "in" from the 1960's onwards - global phone numbers, fax, email, data, voice prints, satellite, cable landing sites.
      You can understand the option to collect all info in real time and then not want to move vast amounts of bulk data around the world, so it it worked on in safe regions eg UK, Australia, NZ.
      We know the data "out" is a select stream returned to the USA in near real time.
      We know the brands of super computers, power needs and cooling water use.
      We
  • the bright side (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:38PM (#44612835) Journal

    > or they are simply going to be less effective once they've reduced their staff.

    Which wouldn't be such a terrible thing.

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Will be. They will still be collecting everyone's information, but as with less staff could be less secure, and an external intrusion there will mean that even more people with bad intentions will be able to access your information, or get 0day vulnerabilities right from the source, or use the backdoored (by them) systems in all the world to do a test drive of the attack the NSA is preparing [schneier.com].
      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Will be. They will still be collecting everyone's information, but as with less staff could be less secure, and an external intrusion there will mean that even more people with bad intentions will be able to access your information, or get 0day vulnerabilities right from the source, or use the backdoored (by them) systems in all the world to do a test drive of the attack the NSA is preparing [schneier.com].

        Point to you. I would reply that, perhaps I'm being too optimistic, but I'd like to think that such occurrences would serve to further discredit the NSA, making it more likely that such information gathering and intentional security breaches (backdooring being essentially that) would be curtailed. So, short run, sucks, but long run, better.

        The idea being, people who can't be trusted with security, should have security taken away from them.

    • by MacDork (560499)

      > or they are simply going to be less effective once they've reduced their staff.

      Which wouldn't be such a terrible thing.

      Or they can be easily disabled by a small but disgruntled group of sys admins. See Terry Childs [wikipedia.org] for an example of what can happen when a limited number of people hold the keys to the kingdom.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:39PM (#44612839)

    The worst thing you can do with a person in a privileged access position is tell that person substantially in advance that they have a 90% chance of being made redundant. The overwhelming majority of people are reasonable, rational and won't do anything - but when you have such a large set of people - some won't be so amenable to being pushed out the door.

    In short, I'd be surprised if they haven't created a small army of potential Edward Snowden's through this. Wherever I've worked, if we made a system administrator redundant we'd have disabled their account before they were told and then broke it to them - even if it was under consideration, we'd send them home with pay for the duration - it's just common sense.

    -SG

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      I am sure the Russian embassy is asking its helpers in a few regions of the USA to be ready for much more work.
      The Soviet Union picked up so much form UK staff in the 1950/70's via poor working conditions/pay.
      The UK staff where mostly in the gov and had real standing, rank, jobs.
      If your security clearance is the only way to work and its not worth as much outside the gov?
      If a contractor job gave you standing, a good lifestyle, holidays (as in time and cost), rent, a good car - what is waiting?
      A resume t
  • Replace computers with typewriters [slashdot.org].

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:44PM (#44612879) Homepage Journal

    ... 100% of potential leakers are now 90% sure that they're going to lose their job anyway.

    Carry on, NSA.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      ... 100% of potential leakers are now 90% sure that they're going to lose their job anyway.

      The catch is... the ones who are left, are going to be the ones that get to maintain the automated scripts; as a result, the 10% who are left are probably going to wind up being the go-to folks, which ultimately suggests the administrative duties and powers the 90% had will now be concentrated in the 10% --- so if one of those guys turns out to be bad, it may be even worse, and there will be fewer other h

  • The NSA could certainly prevent 90% of their systems administrators from seeing the data though. All data should be encrypted when it is not displayed. Everything on file servers should be encrypted and most of the admins won't need the keys.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Re All data should be encrypted.
      The US has a love/hate feel on data been encrypted.
      In the past the US has many great wins with sloppy work by ww2 German, the Soviet Union, now the EU, Japan ...
      Get all their super good 'encrypted' data, work on it in bulk, be fast, only then send small amounts of safe encrypted work back to the USA.
      Everybody know the USA is listening, but exactly what is the mystery.
      A junta, celeb, drug dealer, political hopeful, a huge financial scam or test flight...
      The US also bu
  • by mysidia (191772) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:54PM (#44612951)

    Don't you dare try to get rid 90% of system admins.

    Better back off, or I will replace your management team with a 5 line shell script, and sell it to Obama as a way of demonstrating that he is serious about more efficient government.

  • by Nexion (1064)

    woot?

  • by sgt_doom (655561) on Monday August 19, 2013 @08:06PM (#44613071)
    Like everything else, they will simply offshore all those sysadmin jobs to India, China, Vietnam and Russia, of course, which is what they normally do, you douchetards!
    • Good. There's nothing like hiring the Russians to fight the Chinese, who are busy fighting the Vietnamese, who are busy fighting the Iraqis, who are busy fighting the Russians. The entire world is fighting a war on a dozen fronts, and you don't need to worry that they'll do anything really stupid, since their best minds are devoted to the mindless tasks of destroying someone's bunker or supply lines. Then you take your private jet to your private island, and quietly learn how to solve that Rubik's cube...bl

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Offshore or new code or fancy robots on rails, this will get interesting for state politics.
      Vast numbers of young people are returning with clearances, or went into expensive 'security' education and are all expecting many "local" federal jobs.
      Speeches presenting and contractors lined up for an ever expanding security apparatus in their State. Political skill and connections got the future jobs....
      If one agency is not hiring in the "correct" way, other agencies might get funding moved over to them and
  • ...or they are simply going to be less effective once they've reduced their staff.

    I'm perfectly fine with their being less "effective."

    • I'd be more happy with them returning to their original mission, and understanding that destroying the Constitution to save the Constitution is not a valid option.

  • and in the spirit of pointy-haired bosses everywhere it means little. The administration is going to squeeze whatever good press they can garner from the comment and then do nothing. Oh, wait, there will be a panel of learned IT staff, then a study group, then a plan-for-a-plan group, then a project planning group then a phase I project and then, wait for it, a cut in funding that cancels the project.

  • I think I lost a few IQ points just reading it. Anyway, in rebuttal:

    1. You don't need very many smart people. Albert Einstein did all the hard stuff when it came to the atom bomb. Factories run with a 2 or 3 engineers instead of thousands of workers. Lotus 1-2-3 put thousands of accountant clerks out of work. Etc, etc. I suppose we can all go work at Walmart.

    2. Fewer people means less people to leak. Also fewer jobs means people more afraid of losing what little they have. It means less idealism and
    • by PPH (736903)

      Albert Einstein did all the hard stuff when it came to the atom bomb.

      Einstein didn't do diddly with the atom bomb besides help persuade Roosevelt to get out ahead of the Germans in developing one.

  • This shouldn't be that complicated.

    1) Sysadmins who implement surveillance systems have access to information for which they are not authorized. Replace them with small shell scripts.

    2) Since analysts as well can abuse their authority in selecting surveillance targets, replace them with a "target identification AI."

    3) Drone pilots are fallible, and may accidentally fire on the wrong targets (or worse, refuse to fire at all!). Replace them with automated piloting systems.

    That should do it! Why, with the comp

  • As of today, System Administrators will require an Entry Permit. System Administrator Entry Tickets are no longer sufficient.

  • Their thinking probably goes along the lines of: each admin has a0.00003% of ratting them out each year and with a zillion admins they are looking at an 8% per year chance of a whistle blow. (Numbers came out of my ass) So if you can reduce the number of potential whistle blowers to 10% you massively reduce the chances of a whistle blow to less than one per career.

    But if you have fewer admins each will have to not only have greater power due to the larger surface area but due to the whole hit by the bus t
  • Replace all of your systems administrators!! Just install Microsoft System Center, press a few buttons, wave a magic wand. Then get those pink slips ready! Sit back and relax as Microsoft System Center takes care of everything. It supports just about every operating system, non-Windows(tm) based systems requires additional licensed third party vendor software. Once you stream line your business and embrace the cloud you will be able to reduce your human capitol. If you do ever have any issue Microsoft will

    • by mysidia (191772)

      Microsoft will always be there to help.

      Yeah... after spending 24 hours on hold, then waiting another 24 hours for a callback, and getting referred to different departments over and over again; with incrementally larger waiting periods.

  • Sucks to get laid off and I feel real bad for those that might but...

    Hire 95% more or lay off 95%. Doesn't matter really. Either way, our individual rights will benefit. The turmoil will only distract from their efforts to subvert our inalienable rights.

    Actually, probably better if they were to hire 95% more managers. That'd make them incapable of doing anything aside from having meetings.
  • They plan to confine their activities to legal surveillance from now on.

    Yeah, right.

  • by PPH (736903)

    Which 10% are actually doing the work, which they should keep? Which 90% are spending their days playing Minesweeper?

    Its a problem that most of industry has to deal with. And indications are that they haven't done a very good job of it.

  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Tuesday August 20, 2013 @02:01AM (#44615187) Homepage

    Seems to me that in order to succeed the NSA has to disband itself.

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