Cybersecurity engineers from government spy and defence agencies are fleeing DC for Silicon Valley.
Now more than ever, tech companies need the skill sets that the elite engineers working for the NSA, CIA and Department of Defence can offer, The Information reports.
And it’s an attractive deal for those engineers, too, who get to move to sunny California for a high-paying gig in a fast-moving, nonbureaucratic environment.
Cyber-security companies and startups like FireEye and Defence.net always need more talented engineers joining their troops, but even non-cybersecurity companies like Facebook, Google and Zynga want people that can help them protect their data and infrastructure from hostile attacks.
“There are brilliant graduates coming from MIT and Stanford, but they tend to be young, optimistic and insufficiently paranoid,” chief executive of Defence.net Chris Risley told The Information. “The people who think the way we need them to think are coming out of the government or traditional government contractors.”
Risley has recruited more than half his engineering department from such sources.
But just because more engineers are finding their way to Silicon Valley, doesn’t mean the government is wasting its investment on those people. The government buys security products from private companies, so if those companies better understand government goals and requirements through the insight of past employees, they will make the best products needed to protect this country. And it works in the opposite direction, too: for years, the Pentagon has poached from Silicon Valley’s finest enterprise companies and Facebook’s chief security officer went to work for the NSA back in 2010.
With growing public mistrust about agencies like the NSA having too much access to private data, though, this frequent back-and-forth makes some people nervous. (When the NSA’s surveillance program, PRISM, was revealed last year, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page both denied having ever heard of the program, but those statements didn’t quell every fear.)
Regardless, with reports of new cyberattacks increasing all the time, the symbiotic relationship between the government and Silicon Valley looks likely to continue.
“People don’t like to say it aloud,” head of cybersecurity research center the SANS Institute told The Information, “but the tanks of the next war will be the people with the skills to win or lose battles in cyberspace.”