The new directorate — which will become operational on October 1 — is to be headed up by Anne Neuberger, who has been leading the NSA’s Russia Small Group.
NSA Director and Cyber Command chief Gen. Paul Nakasone publicly announced the directorate’s formation at a conference at Fordham University.
“This new approach to cybersecurity will better position NSA to collaborate with key partners across the US government like US 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,” according to the NSA.
This comes amid a debate over how aggressive offensive US cyber operations should be in response to foreign attacks and questions about the legal framework for carrying out those actions.
After her speech Neuberger told CNN that the US has shared information on threats to US elections with allies.
“What we did after we worked on the 2018 midterm elections, we looked around the world and said where will there be democratic elections around the next year and do we have insights that might be helpful about how social media is used to influence, how do you identify false attempts to be anonymous online and we really just got on a travel tour and sat down, one by one, shared what we learned,” she told CNN.
Later Tuesday, Nakasone said adversaries in the cyber realm are “no longer in a pattern of just waiting for and wondering if the US is going to respond,” adding that the US has acted in a way that “does send a certain amount of signals to our adversaries.”
But Nakasone also noted that the US has “our work to do,” in continuing to shore up cyber defenses for election interference in other areas.
Last week, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley stressed the importance of cyberdefense, noting that cyberthreats are what keeps him up at night.
“The internet of things creates a degree of vulnerability in all the things that are hooked into that. And so cyberdefense is absolutely critical…whether it’s in the military realm, whether it’s infrastructure, power grids, banking, the cybernet of things — the internet of things — can reach into all kinds of areas,” he told CNN’s Jim Sciutto.
“When people ask me, ‘What keeps you up at night?,’ that’s kind of the one that keeps me up at night,” he continued. “Because you look at the time it would take to move a carrier battle group or the time to move an air wing, but how long does it take to move ones and zeroes globally? It’s near instantaneous.”
“And the other thing, it’s not just state actors. Now you have non-state actors that can be empowered and then how do you go back against a non-state actor because you’re not going against something that’s territorial in nature?” Ashley said.
News of Neuberger’s appointment and the directorate’s creation comes just days after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats announced the creation of the Election Threats Executive position to coordinate the intelligence community’s efforts to safeguard elections — a role that will be filled by Shelby Pierson.
The NSA says Neuberger will make her first public appearance (outside of Fordham) in her new role on September 4 at the Annual Billington Cybersecurity Summit in Washington.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.