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Uncle Sam wants a few good hackers
By Robert Lemos, ZDNN
July 16, 2001 4:35 AM PT
URL: http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,5094147,00.html

LAS VEGAS--We're from the government and we want you to help us.

That was the message that from a seven-member "Meet the Fed" panel, where government 
officials answered the questions of a roomful of hackers at the Def Con conference 
here Saturday.

Including members of law enforcement, a congressman and security experts, the panel 
illuminated the problems the government has in securing systems and appealed to 
hackers not to make it any harder--both to help the government and to help themselves.

"The objective of coming and having a "Meet the Fed" panel is to give folks who have 
not crossed the line yet a positive alternative," said Jim Christy, a supervisory 
special agent for the Department of Defense. "There is a whole lot of talent 
here--let's put that talent to good use."

Rather than enemies meeting across the table, the session instead resembled collegial 
meeting of the minds. At the end of the one-hour sessions, hackers mobbed the panel to 
continue the discussion and, in many cases, to inquire about jobs.

"There was a lot of people who wanted cards because they wanted jobs," said Christy, 
who added that teenagers doing the right things now may make all the difference later.

"What we are trying to do is to give folks an alternative to the counterculture where 
you are going to break the law," he said. "Somewhere down the road you are going to 
affect your entire life."

While such comments were directed at the younger members of the crowd, Def Con has 
drastically changed from previous years. While the conference has its roots in the 
underground hacker movement, Def Con has been more about underground culture than 
technology in recent years. This year, however, the crowd seemed older, more mature 
and technical.

Paul Smulian, chief of staff for the DOD's Directorate of Information Assurance in the 
Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, or C3I, section, said that the 
government is actively looking for those technical hackers who have acted responsible 
and ethically.

"Some of our most secret agencies across the country are looking at people with skills 
that the people in the audience have," he said after the session.

While Smulian admitted that he had looked for ways to get out of coming to what he 
believed would be a duck shoot, he found the panel discussion and the chats afterward 
to be rewarding.

"Nowhere else do we get the insight that we're getting here," he said. "I was one of 
the last people who wanted to come here. But this was a great eye-opener for me."

The search for ethical hackers?
While searching for ethical hackers at the Las Vegas conference is a crap shoot, 
Smulian said that the government is forming plans to educate would-be hackers earlier 
on a solid code of ethics for cyberspace.

"What the National Plan calls for is education at the very youngest level," he said. 
"So we have good cyber citizens that grow up and can work for our most secure 
government agencies."

Other members of the panel said that's well and good, but today it's important for 
hackers to leave government computers alone.

"We are all in this country together," said Raymond Semko, the pony-tailed director of 
the Interagency OPSEC Support Staff, the group responsible for security unclassified, 
but sensitive, government data. "We have to watch each other's back."

Appealing to the crowd's patriotism, and getting applause in return, Semko added, 
"What I can't take is all those other countries out there who think we are weak and 
easy prey."

The hardest questions posed to the panel were questions of the erosion of privacy by 
new law enforcement technologies, such as Carnivore and ubiquitous tracking using cell 
phone signals.

While he said he believed privacy was an important right, the DOD's Christy said law 
enforcement needs to keep its tools.

"We just want to retain the same tools," he said. "We have serious concerns about 
losing the right to use tools that we need to protect and serve."

The debate will continue, he added.

"If there was an easy answer there would not be all the controversy."

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