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News | Feb. 23, 2023

NSA Engages with Partners, Public During Top Scientific Conference in Hawaii

LAHAINA, Hawaii—For 70 years, people and partnerships have been critical to the foundation of NSA’s competitive advantage. In today’s strategic environment, engagement with partners and the public is more important than ever.

This year, NSA attended and sponsored the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS) at the Hyatt Regency Maui. Held over three days in January, it serves as the longest-standing working scientific conference on information technology management in the world.
“HICSS is a great event for connecting with a broad variety of academic partners and seeing very diverse research,” said Neal Ziring, the NSA Cybersecurity Directorate technical director, who has participated in the event several times since 2009.  “In a job like mine, which is all about breadth, that’s a win for me. Also, it is a good place to make new academic connections.”

First held in 1968, the conference today hosts top scholars in academia and industry from more than 60 countries to share knowledge in computer, information, and system science fields.

Ziring highlighted the additional emphasis that human psychology received this year.

Proving this point, Kimberly Ferguson-Walter, a senior research scientist with NSA’s Laboratory for Advanced Cybersecurity Research (LACR) who is currently on assignment at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, co-led a symposium on Cyberpsychology, Cybersecurity, and the Human Factor at HICSS. The symposium included a well-attended expert panel and several break-out sessions, which together spurred discussion about the critical role of human psychology in effective cybersecurity.

“Attackers take advantage of human errors, but most defenses do not similarly exploit cognitive vulnerabilities of attackers,” said Ferguson-Walter. “The ultimate question is, can we design a new kind of cyber defense technology that uses psychological research to thwart hackers who are trying to infiltrate our systems?”

Panelists including John “Zig” Ziegler, command research liaison in the office of the Technical Director at NSA/CSS Hawaii, and Chelsea Johnson, a human factors engineer at LACR, discussed their views on the state of the field, current knowledge gaps, and future directions. Like Ziring, Ziegler was drawn to the significant breadth of topics at the conference and their unique emphases.

“Rather than focusing on the details of technology, topics at HICSS address the societal and sociological implications and impacts of technology applications,” he said.

A key takeaway for Ziring and Ziegler were the discussions regarding the rapid growth and creative usage of artificial intelligence and machine learning in academia and society as a whole, some of which may apply to NSA’s mission.

“From autonomous vehicles to supply chain management, the utilization of artificial intelligence is affecting the role of the human in decision making processes,” Ziegler said. “These perspectives are important to consider, as technologies are often applied beyond the intention of the technology creators, and can result in unexpected, disruptive outcomes.”

Understanding the perspectives of the attending community and preserving relationships with them are crucial to NSA/CSS’s effort to build and maintain trust and confidence.

When not engaged in scheduled sessions, Ziring and Ziegler helped engage with conference attendees at the Agency booth and speak with booth visitors.

“Having an NSA booth at HICSS was a valuable opportunity to underscore the positive involvement of NSA in the international community (e.g. cybersecurity, technology licensing), changing the perspective from ‘No Such Agency’ and ‘Never Say Anything,’” Ziegler said.

Additional information about HICSS can be found on HICSS’s website.