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US Cyber Command Will Easily Find 6,000 Hackers for its Online Offensive

Experts say that, far from the public image, many hackers just want a steady job. And thousands will soon find one as the US beefs up Cyber Command to tackle a growing online threat.
April 16, 2015, 1:25pm
Imagen por Christophe Ena/AP

Many ordinary people imagine hackers as Guy Fawkes-mask-wearing rebels living on the margins of society, suspicious of government, and courageous or crazy enough to follow wherever their computer wizardry takes them.

In reality, said experts, many just want a steady job.

Cybersecurity honchos believe hackers will be lining up to apply for the approximately 6,200 jobs slated to open at the Pentagon in the next few years as the US beefs up Cyber Command, an arm of the military established in 2009 to handle digital warfare.

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Cyber Command has come under pressure to get fully up and running in 2018 as the US has accused China, North Korea, and other countries of sponsoring online attacks against American government computers, corporations, and infrastructure such as transportation networks and electric grids.

"This cyber workforce must include the most talented experts in both the uniformed and civilian workforce, as well as a close partnership with the private sector," said Eric Rosenbach, an aide to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, during testimony before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, according to The Hill.

The Defense Department won't have trouble filling those positions, according to Quinn Norton, a writer who was embroiled in the federal prosecution of her boyfriend, Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in 2013 after he was indicted for stealing data, charges that critics say were trumped up.

'In America, the Man created the hacker.'

Most hackers aren't so suspicious of government, Norton told VICE News. On the contrary, the state has always supported experiments in advanced technology as long as they were used for patriotic ends.

"They'll get plenty of people," Norton said. "The link between the Department of Defense and the hacker community in America goes back to World War II. For the political movement, you get that in Europe. In America, the Man created the hacker."

Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer for Trend Micro, a Texas-based IT security firm, agreed that the military brass would fulfill their quotas for hackers. They wouldn't get the hardcore hacktivists, however, he added.

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"There are many different types of hackers," Kellermann told VICE News. "The digerati, I call them — the elite of the elite, self-taught masters of cracking code — those folks will probably not join the effort."

Related: French TV network resumes broadcasting after alleged Islamic State hack. Read more here.

The Pentagon isn't looking for idealists who have been illegally tapping networks but now want to come in from the cold, said Kellerman. They're looking to attract young people who have Guy Fawkes masks hanging from their bedposts. "They want the 22-year-old who doesn't know what to do with their life, who thinks hacking is sexy and they'll dabble here and there," he said. "Those are the ones they want."

Nowadays, technology has advanced to where government can train hackers to use a variety of tools to defend critical infrastructure that other hackers target to access information or cause mayhem.

"The arts of hacking have gone from black magic to science in the past few years," Kellerman said.

But Norton was worried about the culture that could thrive when thousands of young, impressionable hackers join the ranks of the military. The US is too focused on developing fighters for offensive cyberwarfare — what she called a "red team" — rather than defense, or a "blue team," she said.

A hacker group called the Guardians of Peace, allegedly backed byNorth Korea, reportedly broke into Sony Pictures Entertainment's systems many times over the course of several months in 2014 before the group released emails that caused the brouhaha over the film The Interview. Norton believes the US should be working on how to defend companies like Sony, not preparing an army of geeks who might go forth and attack enemy hackers who'll eventually seek revenge.

"The government isn't hiring the blue team," she said. "They are going to hire the people who hack shit and break things."

Related: Does the Sony hack signal a new form of conflict? Read more here.

Follow John Dyer on Twitter: @johnjdyerjr