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The Department of Homeland Security is looking to recruit white-hat hackers to help defend the US's critical internet infrastructure.

An ad by General Dynamics Information Technology on behalf of of the DHS seeks applicants who can "think like the bad guy", understand hacking tools and tactics, analyse net traffic and identify vulnerabilities in federal systems. In a budget request, Defense Secretary Robert Gates requested funds to increase the number of experts it trained each year from 80 to 250 by 2011, AP reports.

The recruitment drive coincides with the end of a 60-day review into the US's cyberdefences, conducted by Melissa Hathaway, which reported its findings last Friday. There's speculation that the ultra-secretive National Security Agency might be given a bigger role in securing the US's cybersecurity defences, an issue that promoted the resignation of DHS cybersecurity chief Rod Beckstrom last month.

Last month the Government Accountability Office submitted the latest in a series of critical reports on the DHS to Congress. Its recommendations included bolstering cyber analysis and warning capabilities, improved exercises, and sharpening the fight against cybercrime.

Last week anonymous government officials told the Wall Street Journal that spies in the employ of potentially hostile powers had planted malware on systems controlling the US national grid. The warning was lacking in details beyond suggesting that Russia and China were involved and that security shortcomings in supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) kit might be exploited to disrupt power or water systems. Russia and China have dismissed the accusation, which in themselves aren't new.

It's tempting to think that the warning was a carefully timed leak designed to smooth the way towards a grant matching the DHS's expectations. ®

Bootnote

If the DHS is on the look out for recruits it could do a lot worse than set up a stall at this week's RSA Conference. The skills of security analysts are a close match for the sort of abilities the DHS is seeking.

The world of fiction also throws up a number of possibilities. There's Matthew "Matt" Farrell, teenage hacking sidekick, to Bruce Willis's character in Die Hard 4.0. The Steve Smith character from American Dad is no slouch with a computer either. His dad, Stan, already works for the DHS.

Such appointments might provoke allegations of nepotism, not to mention the problems of employing a cartoon, and the teenage hacker from WarGames is a more battle-hardened choice.

And returning to the real world there's always Kevin Mitnick or the Australian who broke into a sewage system, Vitek Boden, and earned himself two years behind bars for dumping crud in parks, rivers and even the grounds of a Hyatt Regency hotel back in March and April 2000, to consider as potential candidates.

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