Last month’s notorious Defcon show in Las Vegas attracted an extremely varied audience of 10,000. The only show where attendees do not provide names, at Defcon the $150 entrance fee has to be paid in cash for maximum anonymity. As the showcase for hacking techniques, presumably the brightest underground talent was on display, attracting the attention of many government agencies such as DOD, DHS, NASA and NSA. The NSA is known to be looking to hire 3,000 employees in the next two years for cyber offense and defense roles. According to Richard “Dickie” George, technical director of the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate (the agency’s cyber-defense side), “today it’s cyber warriors that we’re looking for, not rocket scientists.” The quoted article was published prior to the conference; for obvious reasons there is no report after the show mentioning how the hiring went – presumably quite well, although the required background check process may be taking more time:
The show’s founder, Jeff Moss, was appointed to the Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council (HSAC) several years ago by the President to help with national initiatives against cybercrime. However, he is also known as the “Godfather of Hackers”, having also founded the Black Hat IT security conference, and so understands both worlds. Many corporations are also realizing that they need to hire talent from the “other side”. After Apple was repeatedly embarrassed by 19-year-old Nicholas Allegra’s iPhone “jailbreaking” programs, they decided to hire him as an intern:
In another example, Facebook has a standing offer to compensate those who report bugs, and have paid $40,000 to various parties in a recent three week period.
In both examples, non-conventional talent seems to provide very high returns to these companies – despite paying far less than typical salaries would have cost. The following comments from Nicholas Allegra give some insight into the hackers’ view of the world. He said that he would consider working for what he called “the dark side.” On the other hand, “to work on ways of adding security instead would be kind of refreshing. I guess it’s just about the challenge, more than anything else.” He also refers to himself as an Apple “fanboy,” and said he sees Android’s more open platform as “the enemy.”