Monday, August 8, 2011

Hackers Catch a Break

When we think or hear of hackers we automatically run for the hills because all we can imagine is our precious personal information being stolen from us and used for evil. Hackers are not looked upon favorably, usually labeled as criminals. They have broken down security walls and created viruses that will drive an average person and the government crazy. There is so much of our personal information in cyberspace that is really just a click away to a professional hacker's fingertips.

Hackers, like any other group of people, have websites or chat forums online where they can speak to other hackers and learn new things as the world of technology advances. In addition there is an annual convention held called Defcon where hackers meet and greet other hackers. The nineteenth Defcon Convention was actually this past weekend in Las Vegas. Attendees pay a $150 cover fee at the door; this is a cash only payment in order to keep all attendees anonymous. The use of nicknames or pseduonyms are commonly used as well to protect a hacker's true identity.

At the convention hackers can meet other people that share their same interests, hear speeches from keynote speakers and participate in code breaking contests. Games where hackers attempt to "crack the code" are used as trial runs by big corporations, even federal agencies, to spot where the security flaws are in their system. There are also workshops that teach hackers how to protect themselves and avoid having their information stolen and to protect themselves from being detected by the government.

The convention is not only attended by hackers. Officers from government agencies have been known to come to these conventions to "recruit" hackers and place them in security positions. Attendance of agents has birthed a game in which hackers attempt to "spot the fed." Government agencies, like the National Security Agency (NSA), recruit hackers for the same purpose as Facebook which is to improve their current security system. Jeff Moss, who's previous hacker pseduonym was Dark Tangent, was the founder of the Defcon conventions. He was later picked up by the Department of Homeland Security's Advisory Council to assist in cyber security.

Facebook is another company recruiting hackers to seek out security flaws in their social networking site. Facebook launched a new "bug bounty program" at the beginning of August where hackers are paid at least $500 to hack into Facebook and then report where the security flaws are. Of course the hackers have to sign a disclosure agreement stating that they will not reveal the sites weak points until they are resolved. Google and Microsoft have also jumped on the banwagon and hired hackers to find flaws as well and for a much higher pay.

Now some may believe hiring a hacker is like putting the gun in the hand of a terrorist. How do we know that they will do the right thing once in the hot seat? Can we put that much trust in a person who has the ability to crash our country's mainframe? I believe with the right background checks, I mean extensive background checks, we can make hackers our ally. Extra precautions should be taken since these hackers were not intended to work in a high security field. Its exactly the opposite, they were trained to break them down. But this may be the help we need to avoid future internet corruption. It may be best to take advice from the eyes of the culprit than to try and figure out what they will do next. Having a hacker on our side is like having a spy, a very good spy. And not all hackers are bad, but just like anything else they do get a bad rap. Some people have the skill to hack but don't and these are the hackers that need recruiting.

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