Army Gen. Paul Nakasone – who heads both the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command – said today that the first focus of NSA’s recently launched Cybersecurity Directorate will be to shore up protection of companies that make up the nation’s Defense Industrial Base (DIB), and specifically to prevent the theft of intellectual property from DIB companies.

Speaking at FireEye’s Cyber Defense Summit event, Gen. Nakasone talked at length about the mission of the new directorate, which was announced last summer but which only became officially operational on Oct. 1.

The decision to proceed with the new directorate was informed by, among other factors, the Federal government’s whole-of-government approach to protecting the integrity and infrastructure of the U.S. election system during the mid-terms in 2018, the general said. That effort involved numerous Federal entities including NSA, Cyber Command, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

He said the success of that “task force, small group model,” and how “we integrate threat intelligence and share data with the right partners” was “powerful and impactful,” and helped lead the decision to set up the new Cybersecurity Directorate. “I knew we had the capacity and the creativity to do it at scale,” he added.

The directorate, the general said, will aim to prevent and eradicate cyber threats to national security systems and critical infrastructure.

Its initial focus will be on the DIB and weapons security, and “the companies that build our defense and weapons systems, and infrastructure and capabilities that enable them,” with a stated goal of combating IP theft, Gen. Nakasone said.

Prevention of threats will be as much the focus as eradicating them, he explained, with a “rigorous focus on the keys, codes, and crypto and unique role that NSA plays” in the Federal government. “This new directorate will improve this aspect of NSA’s unique vision,” he said.

When the new directorate was announced this summer, NSA said it would “reinvigorate our white hat mission opening the door to partners and customers on a wide variety of cybersecurity efforts. It will also build on our past successes such as Russia Small Group to operationalize our threat intelligence, vulnerability assessments, and cyber defense expertise to defeat our adversaries in cyberspace.”

“This new approach to cybersecurity will better position NSA to collaborate with key partners across the U.S. government like U.S. Cyber Command, Department of Homeland Security, and Federal Bureau of Investigation. It will also enable us to better share information with our customers so they are equipped to defend against malicious cyber activity,” the agency said.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.