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Government Announces New Hacker-Recruitment Program

August 6, 2011

The US Defense Department is recruiting hackers to help it bolster its defenses against cyberattacks, a former hacker now working with the government said on Thursday.

The program, known as Cyber Fast Track, was announced by Peiter Zatko during a keynote speech at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, according to John D. Sutter of CNN.com. The program, he says, “is aimed at hackers and computer security experts” and officially launched Wednesday.

According to Tabassum Zakaria of Reuters, “said he joined the Pentagon’s research arm to try and build bridges between the government’s cybersecurity needs and hackers working on innovative projects”¦ What he found instead was a lumbering bureaucracy on the government side that had the more nimble hacking community throwing up its arms in frustration as its members tried to navigate unfathomable bureaucratese on reams of forms, in a process that lasted months.”

Thus, the idea behind the new Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program is to “cut red tape for hackers to apply for funding for projects that would help the Defense Department secure computer networks,” Zakaria added.

Zatko said that he viewed the program as a way of “bridging the gap” between government cybersecurity efforts and those hackers who do their jobs in order to make computer systems safer and more secure. Cyber Fast Track is intended to fund independent cybersecurity research, though neither the total investment in the program nor the size of individual grants were disclosed.

About 20 to 100 such projects will be funded each year, according to Zakaria, and those working independently on government project “will be allowed to keep the commercial intellectual property rights while giving the Defense Department use of the project.”

Sutter also reports that booths for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have been spotted at the Las Vegas conference, which covers technology and security related issues. Why those two organizations were at the Caesar’s Palace event, presumable recruiting hackers for some unspecified purpose, was not overtly disclosed.

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