The U.S. government is looking to hire hackers, as federal agencies ramp up their ranks to defend the country from cyber-criminals.
The Departments of defence and Homeland Security, along with NASA and the National Security Administration, plan to recruit employees at this week’s Defcon conference in Las Vegas.
The annual conference draws thousands of hackers, many of whom may receive job offers from several competing government agencies. The NSA, for instance, wants to hire 1,500 cyber experts before Sept. 30, while NASA seeks computer instead of rocket scientists.
It is a job hunter’s market, as Richard “Dickie” George, NSA’s technical director for the Information Assurance Directorate, suggests with a pitch aimed to sell the NSA as a workplace to hackers.
“We have a wonderful atmosphere, we have great people and we have the hardest problems on Earth. And we need help, the country needs help,” George said.
George’s plea for help is an understatement, given the host of recent cyber-attacks against NATO, the International Monetary Fund, CIA, FBI and U.S. nuclear facilities. Even the Pentagon lately revealed one of its contractors suffered a massive breach in March.
With the escalation of cyber-attacks, the U.S. government faces an uphill battle against hackers, though it can boast minor victories. The military now has authority to fire missiles at government-backed hackers, who may also serve double prison time if an Obama administration’s proposal goes through.
The FBI also just arrested 16 alleged participants in the hacktivist group Anonymous, though it may be only a handful compared to the group’s possibly thousand or more members.
George may have trouble finding the help he seeks at Defcon, however, as hackers by nature tend to eschew establishments and defy authority. Defcon itself accepts only cash registration payments to keep everything anonymous.
A further barrier to hiring hackers includes six-month security clearances.
Hackers have often found gainful employment with legitimate tech companies, however. Facebook, for example, recently hired famed PS3 hacker George Hotz, the same hacker that Sony sued for posting a wiki on how to install Linux on rooted gaming consoles.
The hires may escalate, especially as cyberspace emerges as the new frontier of attack and conflict that governments must now police. “They need people with the hacker skill set, hacker mind-set,” said Defcon founder Jeff Moss, who now works as an advisor for the Department of Homeland Security.
Whether Defcon’s attendees will harken to the government’s call remains to be seen. If they do so, however, George suggests they may feel right at home.
“When I walk down the hall there are people that I see every day and I never know what colour their hair’s going to be,” George remarks. “And it’s a bonus if they’re wearing shoes. We’ve been in some sense a collection of geeks for a long, long time.”