Hackers: Uncle Sam wants you!

At Def Con in Las Vegas, hackers are urged to work for the nation, not against it

Department of Defence and military officials turned a hacker conference into a recruiting drive Friday, trying to woo the best and the brightest into becoming security experts.

"If you are extremely talented, and you are wondering what you'd like to do for the rest of your life -- join us, and help us educate our people," said Arthur Money, assistant secretary of defence for command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) for the United States, during a "Meet the Fed" panel at Def Con in Las Vegas.

Money was one of four US government officials that told hackers and script kiddies to be all they can be.

"It might be viewed as a challenge, it might be viewed as fun to hack into things, but you might be affecting the lives of people," he said. "I would rather have my attention focused on what rogue states are doing to us than being harassed seven times a day figuring out what the hell some guy is doing to us."

The Department of Defence (DoD) had 22,124 obvious attacks targeted against agency computers in 1999, said Money. Each attack cost almost $1.5m, leaving the DoD with a $25bn bill for defence.

While the noise from script kiddies causes much of the consternation, Money admitted that military and government systems have had -- and in many cases still have -- weak security.

"Up to two years ago, system administrators in the DoD were very likely to have two or three other jobs and then become system administrators," he said. "You could have been the mess officer or the motor pool officer and only then [became] the system administrator. Since Solar Sunrise, that has started to change."

Other high-level officials from the Air Force, the DoD and the Federal Computer Incident Response Centre joined him in addressing the crowd, and they didn't pull their punches.

"There are those things that are fine for education or curiosity, and that's good. But those of you who do things for anarchy or for destroying data -- there is no glory in being an asshole," said David Jerrold, director of FedCIRC.

"Think about what you are doing and think of the methods you use to publicise a security hole. Rather than post it on a chat line, pick up the phone and call me."

In today's market, getting good security experts to work for the government is a difficult job. Network security specialists working for the government tend to make only a third of what their private-sector counterparts get paid.

Instead, government jobs have other perks.

"We have got some of the most sophisticated toys in the world," said Dick Schaefer, director of infrastructure and information assurance for the DoD. "If you would like to get access to those toys and become a part of a very elite team, we would like to talk to you."

Still, the call to arms did not mean the government will open wide its arms to all hackers.

Trust won't come easily, said Jim Christy, special assistant for law enforcement with the US Air Force.

"Remember," he said. "In God we trust -- all others we polygraph."

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