Would a hacker want to work for a government?

LulzSec

LulzSec (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in September, the UK government launched its Joint Cyber Reserve  Unit made up of independent experts to support the military’s efforts to protect ‘critical computer networks and protect vital data.’

Convicted hackers could join the cyber unit’s ranks, provided they pass security vetting, the government has said. I am trying hard not to imagine Hollywood style scenes of a determined yet straight edged cop trying to reign in a gang of disaffected, sub-cultured, anti-system activists to teach them the importance of protecting the interests of ruling elite.

Vivid imaginings aside, the tactic of using specialists to track down other specialists is valid. StExo, the master money launderer featured in my last blog post, claims he would only be caught by another launderer. Serial killers are questioned to identify traits in other serial killers.

Hackers vetted

In an interview with the BBC, the head of the UK Cyber Defence Unit said he would consider using some of the GBP500m funding from the Ministry of Defence to recruit hackers to the reserve unit, provided they passed security vetting. In government-speak, the hackers fall under the category of ‘individuals with no previous military experience, but with the technical knowledge, skills, experience and aptitude to work in this highly-specialised area.’

Given the revelations about how the UK and US governments using technology to look at emails and social networking accounts, their recruitment efforts flies in the face of everything hackers stand for. This year, the public learned that the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) accepted a GBP100m secret payment from the US National Security Agency (NSA) to secure influence over UK intelligence gathering efforts.

Mustafa al-Bassam, 18, was the youngest member of Lulzsec, the group which launched a 50 day campaign hacking into the CIA and UK Serious Organised Crime Agency websites in 2011. The revelations about GCHQ and the NSA’s work has dissuaded him and probably other independent experts from using his skills to protect national security.

“I can understand the need for a government to protect itself, but when you go ahead and stomp on everyone’s civil liberties – as we’ve seen with all the mass surveillance stories that have been out over the past year – I think you can rest assured that you’re going to repel talented people,” he told the BBC Newsnight audience.

A clip of Al-Bassam’s first meeting with the man who tracked him down, Dr David Day, on BBC Newsnight is available here. There’s another link to a longer – I hope – interview on the BBC I-player here. Viewers outside the UK need to use a proxy to view it.

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