SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Former National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander has asked the U.S. intelligence agency to review patent filings by his company to make sure that they do not reveal any secrets or misappropriate any government work.
Alexander told Reuters he took the step to head off additional controversy about IronNet Cybersecurity, a startup he announced after leaving the NSA last year.
“We think it’s a good idea that the government review them,” Alexander said in an interview ahead of an appearance at the RSA Conference on cyber security in San Francisco.
Alexander said his company had already applied for some patents, which should eventually become public record.
The patent issue has drawn questions from security experts and ethicists who wondered if Alexander would be profiting from the labours of others at the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, which he had also headed. Alexander previously dropped a plan to have an NSA employee work part-time at the startup.
Alexander said that the core ideas in the patents were brought to him by another employee who developed them in the private sector. An NSA spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
On other matters, Alexander said that the U.S. government needed to do more on cyber security defence and should have done more in the past.
He also said that he was seeing an increased blending of state-sponsored and criminal cyber attacks. As one example, he cited websites associated with the breaches of Home Depot Inc and Target Corp that contained hostile references to U.S. foreign policy.
“There are tremendous concerns” that those sites “show a much closer relationship with state objectives,” Alexander said.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russian cooperation with Western law enforcement has grown even more rare, and the United States has taken to publicly indicting some residents it is unlikely to capture.
Corruption is one problem, and another is that intelligence agencies in Russia, like those in the America, want to put those with computer hacking skills to work on other objectives.
If relations worsen with Russia or China, that analysis suggests the potential for major breaches originating in those countries will rise, he said.
Alexander also said he was concerned that if talks with Iran fail to produce a nuclear agreement by a June 30 deadline, the country will return to direct attacks like those it was accused of launching on U.S. banking websites in 2011 and 2012.
Reporting by Joseph Menn; Editing by Alan Crosby