July 11, 2012

The U.S. Needs Hackers To Defend Itself

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

In an ongoing attempt to protect our country from cyberthreats, the U.S. government has adopted the old adage, “If you can´t beat them, join them,” as they look to recruit hackers to carry out attacks on their enemies. According to a report in the Guardian, the U.S. could be responsible for hiring hackers to carry out attacks against islamist terrorist organizations in the future.

Likening this choice to hiring German rocket scientists during World War II, John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, said the U.S. government needs to hire people who understand how hacking works in order to protect ourselves from future attacks.

"If this was being done, the war on terror would be over," he said.

According to Mr. Arquilla, the U.S. has already recruited a few hackers, but more are needed if the government wants to stay ahead in this cyberrace.

"Let's just say that in some places you find guys with body piercings and non-regulation haircuts. But most of these sorts of guys can't be vetted in the traditional way. We need a new institutional culture that allows us to reach out to them."

Rather than focus on these hacker´s wrongdoings or try to extradite hackers in other countries, Arquilla says the US should focus on how much protection these hackers can offer. By his count, there are nearly 100 “master hackers” in the world right now, most of them reside in Asia and Russia. He has even established contact with several who live in the U.S., describing them as “Shy, woodland animals.” Arquilla managed to persuade one of these hackers into visiting the CEO of a major company to alert him of potential vulnerabilities in his companies system. The meeting hit a sour note when the woodland creature hacker was able to break his way into a handheld device in just a few minutes.

Arquilla declined to name the company in his interview with the Guardian, but did mention that, “all hell broke loose,” whenever the hacker was able to compromise the handheld.

Perhaps the issue between the CEOs and Government officials and hackers is an issue of understanding. According to Arquilla, "This is huge human capital. They are the rangers of the cyber sphere. Most of them are drawn to it for its beauty and complexity."

While few of these hackers aren´t driven by political motives, "Most of the hackers I have known would love to destroy al-Qaida,” said Arquilla.

The task of taking down al-Qaida wouldn´t be all that difficult if the right people took the task, says the professor of defense. Though the “Loose, decentralized organizational structure” of al-Qaida had US officials confused when they first confronted it over a decade ago. Now, under strategist Abu Musab al-Suri, this structure will become even looser as the terrorist group tries to shirk “traditional” counter-terrorism attacks.

According to Mr. Arquilla, this very looseness which stumped the US years ago can be used to our advantage now.

"This global network simply can't thrive without the world wide web and internet. It can't operate without it, or if it does, at a greatly reduced level."

"We must create a new Bletchley Park. Detect, track, disrupt, that's the key. Back-hack so they don't know how we're doing it. And even if we can't do certain things, make them think we can."

Mr. Arquilla also accuses the pentagon of continuing to spend their money in traditional ways, buying carriers, planes and tanks. By building up a small, hacker army, says Arquilla, the US military can become leaner and more nimble.

"Militaries often take time to adapt. Think world war one and generals using Waterloo tactics."