Cyber ninjas

NY Times:

The government’s urgent push into cyberwarfare has set off a rush among the biggest military companies for billions of dollars in new defense contracts.

The exotic nature of the work, coupled with the deep recession, is enabling the companies to attract top young talent that once would have gone to Silicon Valley. And the race to develop weapons that defend against, or initiate, computer attacks has given rise to thousands of “hacker soldiers” within the Pentagon who can blend the new capabilities into the nation’s war planning.

Nearly all of the largest military companies — including Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon — have major cyber contracts with the military and intelligence agencies.

The companies have been moving quickly to lock up the relatively small number of experts with the training and creativity to block the attacks and design countermeasures. They have been buying smaller firms, financing academic research and running advertisements for “cyberninjas” at a time when other industries are shedding workers.

The changes are manifesting themselves in highly classified laboratories, where computer geeks in their 20s like to joke that they are hackers with security clearances.

At a Raytheon facility here south of the Kennedy Space Center, a hub of innovation in an earlier era, rock music blares and empty cans of Mountain Dew pile up as engineers create tools to protect the Pentagon’s computers and crack into the networks of countries that could become adversaries. Prizes like cappuccino machines and stacks of cash spur them on, and a gong heralds each major breakthrough.

The young engineers represent the new face of a war that President Obama described Friday as “one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.” The president said he would appoint a senior White House official to oversee the nation’s cybersecurity strategies.

Computer experts say the government is behind the curve in sealing off its networks from threats that are growing more persistent and sophisticated, with thousands of intrusions each day from organized criminals and legions of hackers for nations including Russia and China.

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It is an important area of concern although it is not as big a threat as Islamic terrorism, but it could become that big or bigger, because it could expose vulnerabilities of our infrastructure and military capacity.

We need to get off of the strategic and tactical defensive and develop an offensive capability that can strike the enemy before he attacks. It requires an ability to peel back the layers of an onion to get at the source of an attack and take it out. Finding a way to automate that process has to be a high priority.

We need the computer equivalent of a HARM anti radar missile that homes in on enemy radar that is tracking our aircraft. These missiles work so well that most adversaries are afraid to turn on their radar.

I think we have the geek power to accomplish that objective, if we can marshal their assets.

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