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Ex-NSA Boss Defends Patenting His Totally Brand New, Not Developed On Gov't Time, Patent-Pending Cybersecurity Brilliance

from the yeah-that's-believable dept

We recently wrote about Keith Alexander claiming that he's worth as much as $1 million a month (actually, the number is now being lowered to $600k) because he's magically come up with a totally brand new anti-hacking concept that will have many patents. As we noted, this story raised all sorts of questions. First, if he had such a brilliant idea to stop hackers, why didn't he use it back when he was in charge of the NSA and the US Cyber Command? His answer to that was that he magically came up with it after he left office in March. Of course, if that's the case, it's difficult to see how it can be worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars per month because it's a totally untested and totally brand new idea. He can't both be claiming that his years of NSA experience make it worthwhile and that this idea has nothing to do with his work at the NSA -- but he seems to be doing exactly that.

Either way, he's given an interview to the Associated Press in which he tries (and fails) to defend himself concerning the new operation, IronNet Cybersecurity:
"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?" he asked. "I'm a cyber guy. Can't I go to work and do cyber stuff?"
The "brain surgery" analogy is not even close to be analogous. This is more like he was the administrator of an army hospital who has now retired and says, despite never having personally done a brain surgery, he's now invented a miraculous new way to do brain surgeries so powerful people have only dreamed of them before. Naturally, most people should be skeptical of such claims.

And, of course, most actual cybersecurity folks I know don't consider Alexander to really be a "cyber guy." He's not. Yes, he managed various groups that could hack into systems, but that doesn't make him any sort of expert on cybersecurity. Just the fact that he's diving into the murky waters of "behavioral modeling" as his anti-hacking technique should raise some flags. It's an area that has been talked about a lot, but solutions haven't been any good at all.

Is it possible that Alexander has broken through on an idea that has stumped many people who actually do spend all their time hacking away at systems, looking for security holes and how to fix them? Sure. It's possible, but it's improbable. And the claims by themselves should require significant proof before they're taken seriously. As we've said for years, ideas are one thing. Execution is another, and Alexander has shown no evidence that his solution is actually any good. So why are companies paying him upwards of six figures a month? Good question. It seems unlikely that they truly believe he has found the holy anti-hacking grail. It seems more likely that they like his government connections.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:13am

    How we know he's not a cyber guy

    Actual computer security people would rather die than call themselves "cyber" anything.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:16am

    "It seems more likely that they like his government connections."

    Or they fear his government connections.

     

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  3.  
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    Rich, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:24am

    Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    True. "Cyber" is only for bad science fiction and fear-mongering.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:25am

    Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    the correct term is "hacker", but I guess Keith Alexander would not like to call himself that.

     

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  5.  
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    Berenerd (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:25am

    To the banks hiring this guy...

    "I'm a cyber guy."

    YOU'RE HIRING A GUY NAMED "CYBERBOB"

    Also, I know many "cyber guys". Just because you know how to use yahoo messenger to hit on bots with pictures of half naked chicks does not mean you know anything about cyber security.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:33am

    The 'behavioral modeling' he has come up with is the willingness of big business to pay ex senior government employees because of their contacts.

     

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  7.  
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    Anon, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:44am

    Actually...

    My stepbrother did retire as a brain surgeon from the military (close to age 65 with a pension), and according to my nephew, he got a $500,000 signing bonus when he started working with a private clinic.

    But the difference is, he has a demonstrated track record at what he does, he produced demonstrable results before and after he retired, and (AFAIK) the clientele in his private clinic in general have zero connection with his prior work for the US military.

    I have trouble imagining an administrative level executive being a technical whiz at anything. My general experience was the type who enjoyed technical work usually weren't the sort who wanted to be or were equipped to be administrators. A few years being an executive usually ensured you were totally removed from current tech.

     

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  8.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:50am

    Re: Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    Engineer.

     

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  9.  
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    steell (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:54am

    Administrator with an inflated opinion of himself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Dave Xanatos, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 10:05am

    Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    He may very well be a 'cyber' guy. It's something to keep in mind if he ever invites you to a private chat room.

     

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  11.  
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    Andy Boyd, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 10:10am

    Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    Dang, beat me to it. Nobody who works in IT would refer to themselves and the word "Cyber" in the same sentence. This guy does it twice.

     

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  12.  
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    Keith Alexander, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 10:13am

    (Parody)

    "actually, the number is now being lowered to $600k"

    No no no, I'm actually still worth well over a million dollars a month. This $600K figure is merely a promotional. but you must act now!!! I'll even throw in some spyware (strikethrough) some extra hardware and anti-virus software written by the NSA (strikethrough) that will protect your systems even more.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 10:15am

    Re: Re: Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    Poser.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 10:22am

    This and other related articles strongly suggest that Alexander is an inventor or co-inventor of certain techniques/methods. I have perused all links and found nothing other than a reference to technology being provided by an unidentified third party.

    Do you have a cite to any article where Alexander unequivocally states that he is an inventor or co-inventor of whatever techniques his company says it will be using?

     

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  15.  
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    scotts13 (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 10:40am

    One way or the other

    He either developed his "special techniques" with government resources, OR developed them himself (hah!) and withheld them from his agency. Not sure which I like less.

    Doen't matter - IMHO what he's really selling is his knowledge of how the government does their surveillance, which is even more reprehensible.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 10:43am

    Special Techniques

    Such as corruption, extortion, etc.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 11:21am

    Patent Applications

    I am just drooling with anticipation of the coverage the actual patent applications are gonna get. I mean there's gonna be 9 or 10 of them. All open and available for viewing, analysis and ridicule, and ridicule, and ridicule.

    Is there some sort of scoring system or scale for how far out of the park the Patent Office misses on prior art or obviousness, or those little words 'on a computer' or 'on the Internet' that are now patently useless?

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 11:27am

    He can't both be claiming that his years of NSA experience make it worthwhile and that this idea has nothing to do with his work at the NSA
    Why not? He's had years of experience saying obviously-false things like this. He probably doesn't even realize he's doing it anymore.

     

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  19.  
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    Whoever, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 11:29am

    Not Alexander's ideas

    His firm is developing as many as 10 patents, he said, and has secured contracts with three clients he declines to name. The technological innovations in the new patents came from an unidentified partner,


    The ideas behind the patents are not his. Perhaps the partner is the same data analysis firm that Alexander employed without any measurable success while at the NSA?

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 11:34am

    Re:

    If he's applying for a patent doesn't that imply he invented something novel?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 11:36am

    Re: Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    It’s UNIX! I know this!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 11:49am

    Re:

    Alexander doesn't claim that he thought the stuff up. He claimed that he's partnered with someone who did. Only now, he's talking like he was the inventor, despite his early representation.

    All confusion on this point is Alexander's doing. Which is part of what makes me 90% certain that he's got nothing.

     

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  23.  
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    Dan J. (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 11:55am

    Re: Actually...

    This is more like he was administrative head of a cancer hospital, he retires and six months later announces he has miraculously discovered a cure for cancer.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 12:38pm

    Re: Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    Actually, I've heard people use the term "cyber".
    As shorthand for "cybersex", specifically.
    Which makes me even more curious as to exactly what Mr. Alexander is charging $1 million for...

     

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  25.  
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    Anon, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 12:58pm

    Re: Re: Actually...

    >"This is more like he was administrative head of a cancer hospital, he retires and six months later announces he has miraculously discovered a cure for cancer."

    No, more like he ran an asbestos mine or tobacco company for a decade and now announces a cure for cancer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:02pm

    Re:

    Between calling himselv a 'cyber guy' and the behavioural modelling... I'm wondering if he's developed a new fembot that targets financial C-levels.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:21pm

    Come on everyone. He did stay at a Holiday Inn Express.

     

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  28.  
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    BAALZAKK (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

    Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    Agreed, that is a term that my grandmother might use, like my uncle uncle trying to act like he's hip with the new times.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 5:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    No need to be curious. We all know they're all a bunch of cocksuckers...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:41pm

    Um, Keith? Remember all of those times you helpfully explained to us what it means to be a "real" patriot? Wouldn't a patriot just publish all these revolutionary ideas as FOSS, rather than patenting them so that you can license them only to those who are willing/able to pay?

     

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  31.  
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    Sunhawk (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 9:12am

    Re: Re: Re: How we know he's not a cyber guy

    Amusingly, even as a youngster looking at that I was thinking "... that's not any flavor of UNIX I'm aware of..."

     

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  32.  
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    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 10:47am

    Those Monkeys have been busy!!!

    The infinite monkey theorem means he may have used COCO the gorilla to develop this massively miraculous technology! Or the primate is just using him to get his banana fix and promised the technology is on it's way...either way Keith has a monkey on his back and they like to throw poop so I'd keep my distance.

     

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  33.  
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    BAALZAKK (profile), Sep 30th, 2014 @ 12:42am

    Re: Actually...

    Your stepbrother doesn't need to prove his worth: no one becomes a brain surgeon for any length of time without at least 10 years of school, and I'm assuming LOTS of work experience with him being in the military. Army guys tend to get pieces of metal lodged in their skulls at an alarming rate...lol. This guy is just a typical Washington, D.C. professional bullshitter con artist.
    The whole city is packed with them, good place for a tsunami to hit in my estimation.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2014 @ 1:52pm

    Now That's A Good Question...

    Hmmmmm.
    Patent Reg's for NSA (& other Govmt agencies) require all patents be submitted through NSA. If/when NSA feels it is not a patent they need AND it does not divulge classified information then the owner of the patent can pursue use of the patent outside the agency.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2014 @ 1:54pm

    Re: Now That's A Good Question...

    So... Where is the Inspector General?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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