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UK already 'major world power' in cyberwar

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The UK government already has a "considerable" number of attackers and defenders that make it a "major world power" in cyberwarfare, according to a leading US expert.

Scott Borg of the Washington DC-based US Cyber Consequences Unit, a well-connected research group, told The Register that the British military and security services were on the lookout for talented amateur hackers, but this was just "good recruiting practice".

Borg's sober assessment follows excited press reports of an MI5 teenage hacker army and suggestions from the colourful security minister Lord West that a cadre of "naughty boys" could be hired to defend UK networks.

In fact, the UK's first national cyber security strategy, launched in June, mostly involves reorganisation of existing capabilities. GCHQ, the government's 5,000-strong electronic spy station in Cheltenham, will now house the new Cyber Security Operations Centre to coordinate efforts.

Borg said: "When it comes to cyber warfare, the UK is clearly a major world power."

However, he added, as more countries develop cyber war capabilities, recruiters will need to adapt.

"The British government will need a steady stream of new talent and new ideas to maintain the UK's status in this rapidly changing field. It will not be able to do this if it relies exclusively on conventional recruitment techniques.

"Information technology remains an area where many of the most talented and innovative people have extremely unconventional backgrounds.

"Among the top cyber security experts I personally know, there are people who are or have been punk rockers, special operations soldiers, goths with lots of piercings, motorcycle gang members, ageing flower children, serious athletes, total societal drop-outs and ultra-nerds."

He said there are early signs government security authorities are now recognising the value of an unconventional CV.

While cyber warfare isssues have historically enjoyed a higher profile in Washington than in Whitehall, Borg said the British had better appreciation of their shortcomings.

"One special virtue of British politicians and senior civil servants, when it comes to cyber security, is that they seem more aware of how much they don't know than their American counterparts," he said. ®

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