Hey, mild-mannered hackers — having trouble finding an HR contact at shadowy enterprises LulzSec, Anonymous, and News Corp.? Then consider heading to DefCon, happening this week in Las Vegas. Entering its nineteenth year, the initially subversive annual hacker convention has become so accessible and domesticated, it now includes an official day-care on site. But this time around, DefCon’s got something else most other places don’t: jobs. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend, and among them will be recruiters from government agencies. The DoD, DHS, NASA, and the NSA — they’re all desperate for hackers.
The NSA, the Post reports, currently hires about 1,500 people per fiscal year, “most of them cybersecurity experts.” Yet according to NSA cyber-defense guru Dickie George, the government is “straining to hire the people that we need,” making hacker gatherings like DefCon an irresistible job fair — albeit one where “no registration, no credit cards, [and] no names [are] taken” from the prospective employees, who simply need to pay $150 in cash to get in.
All of that worried the Post initially, but it turns out that “strait-laced government types with their rules and missions” can and do get along with hackers, “who by definition want to defy authorities.” As Dickie reassuringly said, “You can absolutely learn the same skills [as scary hackers] without breaking any law.” So what, then, separates a hacker from a dad with a Best Buy gift card? “The hacker mindset,” a man known as Dark Tangent told Reuters. “It’s not like you go to a hacker university and get blessed with a badge that says you’re a hacker. It’s a self-appointed label — you think like one or you don’t.”
But don’t assume it’s all crew cuts and pocket protectors now. Consider, for instance, how Dickie describes the typical scene found in his neck of the NSA: “When I walk down the hall, there are people that I see every day and I never know what color their hair’s going to be. And it’s a bonus if they’re wearing shoes.”