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Defcon 08: by wireless

This year's 'Meet the Fed' session at Defcon in Las Vegas became something of a government recruiting opportunity as US Assistant Defence Secretary for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence Arthur Money appealed to an audience composed largely of ubergeeks, h4x0rz and wannabes to earn proper livings, get haircuts and dress like adults whilst contributing to Uncle Sam's never-ending struggle against the digital Forces of Darkness.

"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," Money suggested.

"[Hacking] might be viewed as a challenge, it might be viewed as fun....but you might be [negatively] 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."

US Department of Defence (DoD) networks endured over twenty thousand attacks in 1999 at an average cost of almost $1.5 million a pop, leaving the Department with a whopping $25 billion in cyber defence expenses, Money noted.

He confessed that the chief reason for this is the piss-poor job DoD has done protecting its networks, for which he blamed the difficulty in recruiting qualified staff.

"[Until] two years ago, systems administrators in the DoD were very likely to have two or three other jobs," he said. "You could have been the mess officer or the motor pool officer and only then [become] the systems administrator."

Other panellists concurred, and occasionally in somewhat more colourful language than one would tend to associate with the official voice of Washington.

"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," Federal Computer Incident Response Centre (CIRC) Director David Jerrold said.

Enticing qualified technical staff to work for government salaries has always been a trial for Uncle Sam, one which accounts for a good deal of DoD network security lapses. Still, there are a few intangible rewards to be gained from signing up for a tour of duty, such as the personal satisfaction which comes from public service, the possibility of being licenced to kill, and the opportunity to play with some incredibly rad gizmos.

"We have got some of the most sophisticated toys in the world," DoD Director of Infrastructure and Information Assurance Dick Schaefer said. "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."

But hackers with a shady history had better see the light, put their wicked ways behind them, and accept Jesus Christ as their Personal Saviour before applying. Confidence will have to be earned, US Air Force Special Assistant for Law Enforcement Jim Christy observed. "In God we trust, but all others we polygraph," he quipped. ®

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