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Defcon, Las Vegas hacker convention, highlights huge financial toll of cyber security breaches

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Monday, August 08, 2011

The news that the federal government was actively recruiting cyber security experts at Defcon, a conference dedicated to hackers, surprised many, but various government agencies are defending the move, according to a published report.

According to a report from The New York Times, federal agents from the U.S. Cyber Command, which is the Pentagon's computer security defense division, as well as those from a score of other organizations, are actively working to recruit the talented hackers attending the annual conference held in Las Vegas.

Industry experts assert that it is unsurprising that the government is turning to Defcon to recruit potential employees. The conference regularly attracts some of the brightest hackers and cyber security experts from across the world and while it may seem like a risky endeavor, many of the hackers who attend Defcon are not interested in committing acts of cyber espionage.

In fact, conference attendees are broken down according to their affiliation, with so-called 'whitehat' and 'blackhat' hackers present. The former is concerned with exposing cyber security vulnerabilities, while the latter group largely hacks for the thrill of the act, according to analysts.

Amid rooms filled with men and women with dyed hair who dressed in capes and other get-ups (the hacker crowd tends to draw a more eccentric personality), representatives from the Navy, Air Force, NASA and other government agencies mingled, according to The Times. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) went as far as to set up a table to draw visitors.

The government is working to re-shape its image, according to representatives who attended Defcon. NASA cyber security investigator Ahmed Saleh affirmed that the government was not present at the conference to trick hackers into joining. Rather, he said that hackers might want to consider working for the government "if you're a geek and you want to catch the bad guys."

U.S. officials, along with those from governments across the globe, are exceedingly concerned about the susceptibility of computer networks to hackers. If anything, Defcon attendees illustrated that officials' concerns are warranted as they demonstrated with seeming ease how computer networks could be breached.

Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told CBS News that hackers are increasingly exploiting weak cyber security defense programs deployed by government and non-government agencies. Hackers are often able to circumvent cyber security defenses at many large businesses, especially those in the utility industry, without being detected, he asserted.

"The technology for intrusion is far ahead of the technology for defenses and we need to catch up," he said.

The government recently announced that hackers had successfully penetrated the Pentagon's firewalls earlier in the year. During the cyber security breaches, hackers stole sensitive data outlining plans for the war in Afghanistan, as well as designs for satellites, drones and a top-secret fighter jet, according to CBS News. 

Industry experts contend that the U.S. government is not the only enterprise that hackers are targeting. Companies that deal in critical infrastructures, including power providers and other utility companies, often fall victim to sophisticated hackers. 

The loss of trade secrets to hackers is not only a security issue, but also a financial one, according to analysts. Data indicates that information lost to hackers costs private businesses in the U.S. more than $20 billion each year. 

The U.S. hopes to recruit some of the talented cyber security experts to fortify its own defenses. As a result, Defcon and conferences like it are fast becoming prime recruiting tools. 



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