Details of a new NSA program have emerged from Wired's meticulous Snowden profile this morning. As part of the interview, Snowden described an ongoing NSA project called Monstermind, planned as a new cyberdefense capability. The system would scan web metadata for signs of an attack in progress, then respond automatically to blunt the attack and potentially even retaliate. The program is still in development and there is no information on if or when it might be deployed, but once put in action, it would represent a huge shift towards American control over the internet, effectively stopping any traffic the NSA deems malicious.
It isn't the first time someone has proposed stamping out malware by monitoring network traffic -- the SecDev group took a similar approach with its ZeroPoint project -- but with a network-level view of most of the traffic traveling over the web, the NSA is uniquely positioned to pull it off. Still, the development of the program raises a number of difficult questions. If MonsterMind is launching automatic counterattacks, how will it prevent collateral damage against intermediary machines caught up in botnet attacks? More importantly, is MonsterMind's protection enough to justify the NSA's continued access to most of the activity on the web?