When Math and Science Collide: Using Artificial Intelligence at NSA

Liz Russell is an Applied Research Mathematician at NSA and discusses the use of artificial intelligence's role in cybersecurity.
Artifical Intelligence AI graphic - FI

In a world where technology is constantly evolving, the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become prevalent in our everyday routine, whether we realize it or not.

But what about cybersecurity? As multiple systems continuously gather and transmit information, how can the government ensure the safety of that information? To fully understand the capabilities of AI, it takes teams of highly skilled researchers in an innovative workspace to analyze the competencies of these machines and understand why they do the things they do.

NSA logo“I’m a little hesitant to define artificial intelligence since it has always sounded a little too much like science fiction to me,” says Liz Russell, an Applied Research Mathematician at National Security Agency (NSA). She splits the concept of AI into two sectors: machine learning and data science. Machine learning is the process in which a system learns trends to make predictions, whereas data science revolves around using large sets of data to make observations.

Liz tackles both in her everyday work.

“I research national security problems where a machine learning or data science solution might be appropriate,” she explains. “The problems typically come from intelligence analysts hoping for better ways to handle or answer questions involving large sets of data.”

In other words, she’s a data-mining superhero who comes up with solutions for some of the nation’s most complex technological problems.

“Before I came to NSA, I had the same false impression that most people probably have about federal agencies: suits and dark sunglasses,” she jokes. “When I got here, I was surprised to see so many people like me.”

“Before I came to NSA, I had the same false impression that most people probably have about federal agencies: suits and dark sunglasses."

She commends NSA for its supportive culture and opportunities to grow. Liz has been enrolled in the Cryptologic Mathematician Development Program, where she did rotational tours throughout the agency in her first three years at NSA, and the Advanced Studies Program, which allowed her the time to further her education. She also served as a mentor for NSA’s graduate math internship.

Through these experiences, Liz utilized her skills in different ways, expanded her knowledge of the agency and was exposed to a broad variety of situations.

“In addition, NSA has funded me to attend many conferences and workshops to refine my practical knowledge of machine learning techniques and to meet professionals in the larger community,” she says. Coupled with employee development programs, these are just a few of the many ways NSA fosters the advancement of its employees.

NSA not only hires top talent, but it also has a wealth of technical support and subject matter experts that make its collaborative work environment stand out from the rest. From analysts to statisticians and mathematicians like herself, Liz says the incredible community of experts is what makes NSA different and creates a productive atmosphere that promotes cooperation.

One of the most satisfying aspects of Liz’s career is that she feels connected to the mission. Prior to working at NSA, she was an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the U.S. Military Academy, also known as West Point, where she was working alongside military personnel every day.

“I have hundreds of former students and old colleagues who are active duty members of our military. I know that my work at NSA impacts their lives directly; it's a feeling that is both humbling and a little scary.”

This connection is what drives Liz to excel in her line of work and make a positive impact in the Intelligence Community.

“Every project that NSA offices support  – crypt, research, operations, you name it – directly supports programs that aid warfighters, thwart terrorist activity and support the security of the United States,” she says. “The reason why we work so hard is always clear.”

“The reason why we work so hard is always clear.”

If you’re passionate about making a difference in the Intelligence Community, NSA is always searching for the best and brightest to help safeguard the nation. With perks like generous leave programs, affordable healthcare benefits and flexible hours to give you the perfect balance between work and life, your road to a rewarding career can start here. Explore available career opportunities at NSA today.