Security experts have strongly criticised suggestions by a government minister that former hackers might play a key role in Britain's newly announced cybersecurity strategy.
Lord West, the Home Office security minster, made the controversial suggestion that the government had recruited former hackers to work in its new Cyber Security Operations Centre, a key components of the UK government’s cybersecurity strategy announced last week.
West told the BBC that the government had avoided employing "ultra, ultra criminals" but needed the mad skillz expertise of former miscreants.
"You need youngsters who are deep into this stuff… If they have been slightly naughty boys, very often they really enjoy stopping other naughty boys," he said.
Rik Ferguson, a security consultant at Trend Micro, and someone who has worked wth GCHQ, described the idea of hiring reformed hackers to face off state-sponsored cyberspies and cybercriminals from eastern European as misguided at best in an entertaining blog post here.
The government has actually hired a team of people known to have committed criminal acts using computers and is rewarding them for that activity with civil service jobs. It is also giving these same criminals access to signals intelligence at extremely high levels of clearance and relying on them for national defence.
This sounds like the kind of people that have been disparagingly referred to as script-kiddies for many years now and I really can’t see their value to national security or law enforcement. Would it be fair to paraphrase this as "We have hired some hackers, but don’t worry, we didn’t hire the successful ones"?
Ferguson goes on to ask how the active recruitment of known hackers and criminals squares with the government's stated aim of pursuing an ethical cyber-security policy.
Chris Boyd, a security researcher at FaceTime, agrees that Lord West is talking tosh in a post on Twitter. Boyd writes: "Lord West sez: hire lots of talentless script kiddies to shore up UK cyberdefences. How can people be so dense?"
Lord West popped up in numerous news outlets last week suggesting the he didn't really trust this new fangled interweb and is worried about carrying about a smart phone near his Hackney home in case it might get nicked (hello encryption, backup) while, curiously, in conversation with Radio 4, suggesting (under tough questioning) the proactive cyber-offensives played a role in the Falklands War of 1982. As Ferguson points out the war in the south Atlantic happened a year before the first TCP/IP based wide area network became operational.
Confusion about technical terms in a former Naval chief turned government minister is one thing but it's far more of a worry for someone chosen to serve as the UK's first cyber security minister. ®